Zane Seipler won a victory over former employer Sheriff Keith Nygren Thursday.
Nygren is the man who fired Seipler and against whom Seipler ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary election almost two years ago, plus filed a wrongful termination action in Federal Court and an appeal to an arbitrator under his union’s contract on which he has prevailed on three levels so far.
The judge in the case, Thomas Meyer, is the same judge who ruled that Nygren should follow an arbitrator’s order and re-hire Seipler. That ruling has been upheld by the Appellate Court, but Nygren has appealed the case to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Judge Meyer reversed his ruling to allow Nygren’s participation in Seipler’s effort to get a Special Prosecutor to investigate the possibility of criminal wrong-doing on the part of the Sheriff. Previously, he has indicated that he didn’t know if he had made the correct decision.
Meyer had allowed Nygren to participate in the case in which Seipler was seeking the naming of a Special Prosecutor to probe, to put it in Seipler attorney Blake Horwitz’ words after the Thursday hearing,
- felony theft
- official misconduct
- misappropriation of funds
Horwitz alleged the crime Nygren committed was “stealing public money to promote [his] private interest [that is, Nygren’s campaign].”
“That is not a dispute about points on a star anymore than mail fraud is about “putting a stamp on a letter.”
There were seven attorneys in Judge Meyer’s courtroom with an interest in the case.
Four took part in the proceedings:
- Nygren’s personal attorney Mark Gummerson
- Gummerson associate Rebecca Lee
- Special Assistant State’s Attorney William Caldwell
- Seipler attorney Blake Horwitz
In addition, two attorneys were watching the proceedings:
- Assistant State’s Attorney Donna Kelly, the person who advised State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi in his deposition and
- Don Leist, now working for Nygren in the capacity of Equal Opportunity Employment Officer with “other duties as may be specifically assigned to the EEO by the Sheriff, included but not limited to performing any mandated or permitted function of action allowed to be performed by the EEO or by the Sheriff,” according to the job solicitation.
In addition, attorney Robert Hanlon, who represented Seipler at the last hearing, was in attendance.
Also in the room were Nygren, sitting next to his new in-house attorney and Seipler, who sat behind Nygren. The Sheriff left the room after the Judge ruled against his continued participation in the case.
Much of the day’s arguments were about difficult to understand civil practice questions. The technicalities were pretty impossible to follow without the statutory citations.
Resolving them leads to “the last stage of the case,” Horwitz explained. “We’ve gotten through all the procedural hurdles,” characterizing the almost two-year case as “not ordinary litigation.”
Prior to rendering his decision, Meyer said, “I have [had] serious concern about the direction in which case is going, but that has been resolved.”
The Judge then said, “I have no alternative but to strike Sheriff Nygren’s [ability to intervene].”
Efforts by Caldwell to argue that the merits (or lack thereof) of any criminal case and that the issue should be settled in the political arena were short-circuited by the Court, who was determined to stick to whether the State’s Attorney’s position matched those which would allow the appointment of a Special Prosecutor.
“I’m not going to investigate the Sheriff,” Meyer said, indicating that would be the job of a Special Prosecutor, if one were appointed.
Caldwell made his point, indicating he wanted to preserve the issue for appeal purposes.
Horwitz summarized Bianchi’s position that he would not investigate Nygren because, if he did, those suing the Sheriff or his Deputies could claim the State’s Attorney had a conflict, forcing Bianchi to hire outside attorneys a practice he promised to virtually eliminate when he ran for his office seven years ago.
Horwitz also pointed out that by appointing the Appellate Prosecutor as the Special Prosecutor it would cost county taxpayers no more than they are already paying.
After considering the arguments in chambers, Judge Meyer denied another motion to dismiss Seipler’s case observing,
“[We’re] probably at a point where we can move to a resolution of this matter.”
“A decision on the merits?” Caldwell asked.
That was what the Judge had decided.
Attorneys will return in January and February.
“We don’t want a motion for sanctions hanging over our heads,” Gummerson interjected, saying, “We’re ready to argue [now].”
Lee referred to a second motion for sanctions which she said was “clearly on is face designed to harass Mr. Gummerson.”
The Judge gave time to everyone to reply to the others’ motions, as well as to further brief the case, if they wished.
Such arguments should be limited to “the statutes,” Judge Meyer said.
The Judge ordered that parties to the Bianchi deposition be given a copy of the audio recording.