Judge Thomas Meyer ruled Friday morning that McHenry County Sheriff Keith Nygren and his legal affairs officer Don Leist will have an appointed attorney to represent them in The First Electric Newspaper‘s suit to make public an over 100-page investigatory report about Undersheriff Andy Zinke’s behavior in a DEA case.
McHenry County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant John Koziol was the source of the information in his request for a Special Prosecutor to probe what he thought was an impropriety. You can read some of the details here.
The request was turned down by Judge Meyer, who basically said that if State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi wanted to investigate the charges, he could.
Bianchi decided Zinke had done nothing illegal, although “some may consider the dissemination of what would appear to be highly confidential and sensitive information an alarming and problematic matter.”
Nygren announced he had done an investigation of Zinke’s actions outlined by Koziol and found Zinke had done nothing wrong.
Perhaps relevant is that Nygren is supporting Zinke to be his successor.
Zinke is opposed by retired Des Plaines Police Commander Bill Prim, who is supported by Bianchi. (Bianachi, Brian Kelly and Gary Rabine are hosting a $40 Crystal Lake Country Club fund raiser for Prim on October 24th.)
At that point Gonigam filed a Freedom of Information request for the report, was refused and appealed to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, which ruled in The First Electric Newspaper’s favor.
Nygren did not comply with the ruling, so Gonigam went to court, that being the only remedy when the Attorney General does not issue a binding ruling. That was in July.
Nygren and Leist have argued since then that they should have legal representation other than someone from the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office.
After expressing disappointment that Chief Judge Michael Sullivan had not been able to find an attorney on the public payroll to take the case, Judge Meyer agreed to enter an order that a private attorney would be hired if former Assistant State’s Attorney Nichole Owens, now with a mid-state state’s attorney’s office did not agree to take on the task.
Judge Meyer suggested one of his former partners, Ruth Robinson, who heads his former firm’s office in Rockford.
“I don’t think she’s one to run up a bill.
“One of the reason I suggested her is that she’s out of the county.”
Earlier the Judge said,
“I have no interest in pouring money into a private attorney, but my hands are tied.”
He asked both the State’s Attorney’s Office and Leist to “advise me by letter this afternoon if you have the names of any local attorneys you would recommend.”
He also asked for the statutory rate that such a private attorney could be paid. It’s about $90 an hour, but the average attorney working for Bianchi’s office earns about $40 an hour., including support staff.
Referring to local attorneys, First Assistant State’s Attorney Norm Vinton observed, “There are many competent attorneys. Our concern is the expense.”
Before all of this occurred, Judge Meyer reported that the Appellate Defender had turned aside his attempt to appoint them to represent Nygren and Leist. The Appellate Prosecute was not interested either.
Nine nearby state’s attorneys’ offices were contacted by Judge Sullivan. Only DeKalb has not “declined” and the Judge was not optimistic of its accepting Nygren’s case.
Lake County has agreed to represent the County Board’s interests.
Vinton pressed the Judge to contact all 102 county state’s attorneys, but didn’t find any enthusiasm from the Court to do so. (“I don’t think our chances are good.”)
Vinton said, “The State’s Attorney is gravely concerned at the amount of money that will be spent on this case.
“If there could be a private attorney appointed at no cost, we have no problem with that,” he added.
Vinton pointed out that Nygren is expected to appeal, if he loses. (After the session, one attorney observed that the Appellate Court would take a year to render a decision, placing it after next year’s General Election.)
After the hearing, Gonigam said,
“None of this is my idea.
“Just trying to get a report, like a reporter should.”