The Judge who twice dismissed criminal charges against McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi says he will decide whether Special Prosecutor Thomas McQueen and his Quest investigators have committee contempt of court.
Lawyers for McQueen and Quest employees Robert Scigalski and Patrick Hanretty argued that Winnebago County Judge Joseph McGraw should disqualify himself.
McGraw rejected their arguments, saying that he bore “no malice nor ill will against” McQueen or the Quest investigators whom Bianchi seeks to have held in contempt of court.
He also said he had no knowledge of the case and the disputed facts outside of what he learned in the courtroom during the trial.
Challenged on whether there would be the appearance of impropriety if he ruled on attorney Terry Ekl’s motion, Judge McGraw dismissed suggestions that Quest’s having asked about his
- personal information
- current and prior residences
- driver’s record
- family information
would prejudice his decision on the contempt motion.
Before he became a judge, he said “I knew my life would be subject to a [degree] of public scrutiny. I don’t think a reasonable person would question the impartiality of the Court.”
After recusal and a change of judge was rejected and over objections that a Special Prosecutor or the State’s Attorney should prosecute the case and that Ekl might use the case to “leverage Bianchi’s Federal civil rights case, the Judge appointed Bianchi attorney Terry Elk to prosecute the case.
“I think it would just hinder the administration of justice to put it [the case] to another attorney,” McGraw said.
Ekl said he would serve without compensation and would not use the contempt case in the Federal litigation.
“In no way have I sought or will seek a settlement [in the Federal case],” Ekl said. “If I would have wanted to do that, I would have done it before I filed this case.
“I think I’m the person best suited to try this case.”
Referring to the Federal case, McGraw observed, “This Court is a stranger to those proceedings, happily so.”
Ekl immediately told the judge that the maximum penalty he would see was a maximum of a $500 fine and/or six months in jail.
Under the rules in place, that would preclude the possibility of a jury trial.
It would be a bench trial.
Judge McGraw said he would take that as “a binding commitment.”
Ekl proposed “full due process rights” for those he would be prosecuting.
“The whole nine yards,” Judge McGraw emphasized, “as if going to a criminal case.”
Discussing what he was ready to provide the defense attorneys, Ekl said, “Part of the problem in the criminal cases was, ‘Here’s the haystack, where’s the needle?'”
He told of 18,000 pages of emails, “thousands and thousands and thousands of pages are irrelevant in this case.
“We’ll work with you (the defense attorneys) to get you all the relevant documents.”
After the hearing, I asked Ekl if he would seek more discovery.
“I don’t need anymore,” he replied. He also mentioned that the defendants had “Fifth Amendment rights now.”
Asked if he had a comment, Bianchi replied, “No.”
He was smiling.