Six reporters were in the McHenry County Courtroom of Winnebago County Judge Joseph McGraw today for round two of “Those who don’t want Lou Bianchi to be State’s Attorney” v. Lou Bianchi.
I’ll get to the guts of the testimony of Special Prosecutor Thomas McQueen’s witnesses, but, before that, I’d like to take a longer view.
We live in Illinois.
We know there are conspiracies.
We have learned about how Rod Blagojevich conspired with various men motivated strictly by greed to fleece taxpayers.
With that as background, would anyone be surprised that at a lower level of government conspiracies exist as well?
Maybe even to get a Special Prosecutor appointed to take out a sitting State’s Attorney, which making people involved hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.
In any event, in today’s criminal trial of Lou Bianchi, Special Prosecutor McQueen seemed to be playing to a jury.
The courtroom was the small–just two rows of spectator seats. I got there early enough to get a seat, but a fair number did not.
The six reporters were allowed to sit were jurors usually sit, so more people were allowed a seat on a hard bench.
As McQueen’s questioning of witnesses proceeded, more and more objections were made and sustained.
At one point Judge McGraw was visibly shaking his head.
McQueen seemed to be trying to get in evidence that was irrelevant to the case (according to the Judge), but might have stuck with a jury or their proxy at this trial, the reporters.
If this is the second of two “show” trials, based on the ones in the old Soviet Union, the role of the Special Prosecutor was to dirty up Lou Bianchi’s part of the Republican Party.
He certainly did that.
Two witnesses, for example, were put on the stand basically to identify that they had signed checks for campaign contributions to Bianchi’s campaign fund.
The same information is public record on sworn documents at the Illinois State Board of Elections.
The hypothesis of Special Prosecutor McQueen is that Bianchi granted special consideration because of said contributions. Not a “quid pro quo,” he insisted, however.
Clearly, McQueen has a very limited knowledge of politics. He is the son of an elected judge, but maybe his father didn’t share much about the electoral process with him. Henry Tonigan, whose name is on the indictment, but who has been excused from the trial to care for his ill father, however, was an elected official.
In any event, I can’t think of any politician who can be “bought” with a couple of $250 contributions, let alone the $100 or $25 one said was given in 2005 and 2007, respectively.
So why were these witnesses summoned to the courtroom?
I believe it was in the hope that reporters would print their names.
Before getting to the guts of the testimony, which was designed to prove that Bianchi took special actions he should not have in order to benefit friends and/or campaign contributors, let me quote a reporter’s question to Bianchi attorney Terry Ekl after the day’s proceedings ended when McQueen ran out of witnesses, having misjudged how long it would take for the ones he called.
“What I got out it–it was just regular negotiation back and forth,”
observed the reporter.
Not my summary, remember.
After McQueen’s opening statement, Ekl said he felt “a little like my Cousin Vinnie. Most of what Mr. McQueen has told you is a fairy tale. There is no evidence to substantiate what Mr. McQueen charges (that Mr. Bianchi) misused his authority, his discretion.
“It won’t even rise to the level of probably cause…that Bianchi performed an act forbidden by law.
“There isn’t going to be a scintillate of evidence that he should have recused himself.
Ekl asserted that there was “a total absence of proof.”
One case where favoritism was charged involved a woman who took offense at “a fairly obnoxious statement” a Crystal Lake man said to a woman in an apartment parking lot.
McQueen’s first witness, Assistant State’s Attorney William Stanton characterized the statement and situation as he saw it after reading a preliminary Crystal Lake Police Department report.
“In my opinion, it looked like it would be a difficult charge of disorderly conduct. The difficulty was there was no conduct, just (words. You) have to generally have more than words to justify a charge of disorderly conduct.”
Stanton said he discussed this with Bianchi and that the words did not rise to the level ones about a bomb on an airplane or yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater would.
A second Assistant State’s Attorney, Demetri Tsilimigras, told of his involvement, including what he told the woman who first didn’t want to sign a complaint and, then, later did.
After a discussion with Bianchi the two agreed,
“If she wants to go to trial, we’re going to go to trial. On that I agreed with him (Bianchi),”
Tsilimigras told the Judge.
When talking to the woman, Tsilimigras testified he said,
“I basically told her if she wanted to go to trial, we would.“
McQueen produces no witness to contradict Tsilimigras, who was, of course, his witness.
McQueen laid great evidence on the State’s Attorney’s Office having dismissed the charges “with prejudice.” That means the charge could not be lodged again.
The man’s defense attorney asked for that type of dismissal.
Tsilimigras said only Bianchi could approve that.
Tsilimigras also said he saw no reason to refile the case.
The second case had to do with a 19-year old who was twice arrested for selling cocaine so close to Crystal Lake Community High School that his arrests qualified for two Class X felonies.
Public Defender Christopher Harmon, who now works for the Gummerson Rausch Wand Gray Wombacher law firm, said he sought either an 8-year term with boot camp or a four-year term at the Department of Corrections. The 4-year boot camp sentence would get his client out of prison earlier than a 4-year Class 1 sentence.
Assistant State’s Attorney Kirk Chrzanowski said his boss, Phil Hiscock, head of the Criminal Division, was leaning toward a 5-year Class 1 felony sentence.
McQueen did his best to show how Bianchi’s personal relationship with the youth’s family was the reason the fifth year was shaved off the sentence.
When Chrzanowsk met with Bianchi and Hiscock, he said “Mr. Bianchi indicated to me that four years was adequate” and Hiscock nodded his head in agreement.
Ekl asked Public Defender Harmon if he thought a 4-year sentence for a Class 1 felony was “reasonable.”
He said he did.
Hiscock was not called as a witness.
At this point McQueen said he was out of witnesses, but had two more coming in the morning.
Ekl said he would be prepared to present his (second) motion for a directed verdict when McQueen finished his case.
In the hall, Ekl told reporters that if he were required to put on a case, “it would be very limited.”
He added, “The case went exactly the way I thought it would.”
At the beginning of the trial McQueen deep-sixed another count in which Bianchi delayed prosecution of a case so a youth, misidentified in the indictment as a “nephew” of Bianchi, was delayed so the young man could participate in a First Time Offender program he initiated in 2010.
While I have compared McQueen’s case to the show trials of the old Soviet Union, there is a difference here.
The prosecutor does not control the judge in this case.
So, what effect will McQueen’s failure to have all of his witnesses at the Courthouse today?
Two days of articles, rather than the possibility of one day’s.
If McQueen’s case is as bad this time as it was last time around, the Judge could have kicked the case out of court today and that would have been the story, .
Instead, readers will get treated to the flame thrower approach, from which I notice at least one daily newspaper picked up a comment that the Judge said he would ignore.