The politically motivated trial of McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi and his assistant Joyce Synek ended in an acquittal for each on all counts.
Judge Joseph McGraw, brought in from Winnebago County to try the case, issued the half-hour oral decision Wednesday afternoon after hearing two and a half days of evidence presented by Special Prosecutor Henry Tonigan and his assistant Thomas McQueen.
McGraw approved a motion for a verdict of not guilty before any evidence was offered by Bianchi defense attorney Terry Ekl.
Ekl offered a detailed motion for a directed verdict, contending that the indictment by the Special Prosecutor was severely flawed and the evidence presented inadequate.
After a 130 minute lunch break, McGraw found Bianchi not guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and official misconduct related to charges that he used the State’s Attorney’s Office for political purposes.
His assistant was found not guilty of similar charges, as well as having perjured herself in Grand Jury testimony.
Bianchi did not get off without a lecture from the judge, however.
The judge noted that the Special Prosecutor was “looking for a bright line between political and non-political (work) in the office.
“I do agree with the standard of absolute separation of political duties and official duties,” McGraw said looking at Bianchi, who was sitting at the defense table in front of him.
“You have to be extremely cautious. You as State’s Attorney are vested with such authority and discretion. (It is) paramount that the public has absolute confidence (in your office). (You must be) above reproach.
Presumably referring to the use of office personnel to respond to a December 2007 campaign attack from Sheriff Keith Nygren-backed Dan Regna. as well as staff preparation of Bianchi for editorial interviews with the Northwest and Daily Heralds, McGraw said,
“I do not think the State’s Attorney should be hamstrung from being able to defend his office, even if it is during an election.”
The Rockford jurist did call for more scrutiny to prevent political activities in the office.
“How you do your duties must be above reproach. What you do must not contain a hint of impropriety. Strenuous efforts must be made by you to (avoid impropriety).
“I agree with Mr. Tonigan and Mr. McQueen that there should be a bright line between political official (duties). I cannot condone any (misuse of office resources).
“However,” McGraw concluded, “evidence does not demonstrate any crimes have been committed on all criminal counts,” as he dismissed the Special Prosecutor’s case.
During the morning, Nichole Owens, former Chief of the Criminal Division, testified that she helped in Bianchi’s 2008 campaign for re-election, but did her work at home.
Asked why, she worked for Bianchi, she agreed with Ekl on cross examination that she did so because she wanted to.
“I was appalled at some of the case dispositions that took place under the prior administration of Gary Pack.”
At this point Tonigan objected, but was overruled by the Judge.
Asked if she worked eight hours the days of Management Team meetings, usually, but not always held at lunch time, Owens responded, “I worked more than eight hours every day.”
Owens was also asked Synek’s role in the campaign.
“She would prepare baked goods for the fund raisers.”
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Some background that might be of interest:
On April 1st, Associate Judge Thomas Meyer will hear Sheriff Keith Nygren’s primary opponent Zane Seipler’s motion that Nygren used his office for political purposes. Bianchi has written that he will not do such an investigation.
Here are some tea leaves from the last hearing of the request for a Special Prosecutor.