Judge Sharon Prather’s courtroom Friday was more packed than I have seen it since the 22nd Judicial Circuit was inaugurated.
People were crammed in chock-o-block, many wearing carnations in support of McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi.
The hearing was short with attorneys Terry Ekl and Ernest DiBenedetto appearing for Bianchi and Henry Tonigan and Thomas McQueen for the Special Prosecutor.
Judge Prather entered an order from the Illinois Supreme Court assigning the case to Winnebago County (Rockford). The judge assigned to hear the criminal case against Bianchi is Joseph McGraw.
Initially at least, McGraw is expected to do the traveling, but in a case about a Lake County judge, the Kane County jurist assigned the case made folks travel to Kane County a lot of the time, rather than making the arduous trip to the courthouse in Waukegan.
So, where the case will be heard is yet to be decided.
2,913 pages of evidence and Grand Jury transcripts were tendered to the defense by the Special Prosecutor.
A motion for discovery was entered by the defense.
A status hearing will be held on October 22.
After the hearing, the attorneys disappeared behind closed doors in a conference room between the hallway and the courtroom.
Then, it was time for them to talk to reporters.
Earlier Bianchi had refused to comment, referring a reporter to his attorney.
First to be surrounded by reporters from the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Daily and Northwest Heralds, the First Electric Newspaper and McHenry County Blog was Henry Tonigan.
He revealed that the grand jury has not been discharged.
When asked if anyone else would be indicted, the reply was “No comment.”
When Pete Gonigan of the First Electric Newspaper asked under what statute Bianchi had been charged, Tonigan referred him to the State Statutes.
The basis for Gonigan’s question can be found in his article entitled,
He points out that the State Officials and Employees Ethics Act doesn’t apply to State’s Attorneys, because holders of that office are categorized as being part of the judiciary.
As I heard what he said, Tonigan refused to specify what specific law that he was alleging Bianchi has violated.
Tonigan left the corridor and Bianchi’s lead attorney Terry Ekl was up.
Then, the temperature rose.
“Tonigan doesn’t want the taxpayers to know the enormous amount of money that this lark is going to cost the taxpayers.”
[Tonigan has refused to allow his billings to McHenry County public, hiding behind the Open Meetings Act exemption concerning “open investigations.” See “McHenry County Refuses to Release Special Prosecutor's Bill.”]
Ekl pointed out that the DuPage Seven trial cost $3 million, plus $3 million in fees.
“It’s going to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Ekl criticized “private prosecutors who are being paid by the hour.”
Asked about the role of politics in the case, Ekl’s reply was,
“There is clearly a political component to this case to investigate Lou.”
Asked if Judge Gordon Graham, who appointed Tonigan as Special Prosecutor sail together, Ekl replied, “That’s what I’ve been told.”
But he did not have specifics.
“McQueen’s doing all the work,” Eck said about grand jury deliberations. “Tonigan’s just sitting there.”
Stimulated by another question, Ekl asserted,
“There is no bright line in the sand between politics and government.”
He pointed to parade floats, which help increase respect for law enforcement, but which have “a political spin off…So be it.”
That’s when the characterization in the headline came up. Ekl called them “chickens**t charges.”
With reference to the list of political donors, Ekl asserted, “What was actually done in this case didn’t violate any laws, any.”
He talked about the line between political and governmental activities.
It had to do “whether an individual was fund raising and campaigning out of his office…
“The evidence in this case will clearly show there was no fund raising in the office.”
Then, in reply to another question, Ekl said,
“No office staff at any time was involved in fund raising on state time.”
Will the defense ask for a change of venue, that is, for the trail to be held in another county?
“My inclination is it will remain here,” Ekl said.
The subject returned to finances.
Ekl explained that “unless you engaged in deliberate intentional misconduct” that he expected a not guilty verdict.
In that case, McHenry County taxpayers would pick up the cost of both sides of the case [much as Grafton Township taxpayers are expected to have to pay for Ancel Glink's and John Nelson's legal fees and consultant costs, about $162,000.]
If found guilty, Bianchi would be responsible for his own legal fees.
Ekl criticized Tonigan for not returning phone offers to have Bianchi appear before the grand jury to tell his side of the story.
“I never received a single request to testify before the grand jury. (That’s) reprehensible when you’re talking about ruining a man’s life.”