Advertisement:
Post a story

Government ›
News ›
Politics and government ›

County settles Bianchi defense bills, focus now on special prosecutors

McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi hugs his attorney, Terry Ekl, during a press conference following his not guilty verdict outside the McHenry County Government Center in August. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune)

McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi hugs his attorney, Terry Ekl, during a press conference following his not guilty verdict outside the McHenry County Government Center in August. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune)

McHenry County is on the hook for less than half of the legal fees accrued to defend the county’s top prosecutor and his administrative assistant against political corruption charges.

The County Board this week approved a $275,000 settlement agreement to pay attorneys for State’s Attorney Louis Bianchi and Joyce Synek, a cost that could have been much higher had the county been taken to court to pay the $640,000 that had originally been billed.

“I can’t say I am ever going to be satisfied with having to pay out money for this case, and that has nothing to do with Lou (Bianchi), it has to do with the farce of this case,” said County Board Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake. “This was done to minimize the county’s exposure to further dollars being spent.”

The money will be paid for through the county’s insurance liability fund, which is set up annually to handle insurance coverage, workers’ compensation claims and other liabilities.

The agreement protects the county from future liabilities and provides an opportunity to recoup the settlement pending the outcome of lawsuit against special prosecutors Henry “Skip” Tonigan and Thomas McQueen, who were appointed to investigate Bianchi in September 2009.

“It gives the county assurance that they aren’t going to have to pay more money,” Bianchi attorney Terry Ekl said. “The agreement recognized this was a situation where the county was put in a bad place, not of its own doing. It’s really unfortunate what was done to the county here.”

Winnebago County Judge Joseph McGraw in March cleared Bianchi and Synek of charges they conspired to misuse office time and equipment to write political speeches, announcements and fundraising correspondence.

McGraw in August found Bianchi not guilty of official misconduct charges that claimed he dismissed or weakened prosecutions of people with connections to his office. Charges against state’s attorney investigators Ron Salgado and Michael McCleary were also dismissed.

The ruling ended a two-year ordeal that left the county in charge of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills.

“It’s obviously been frustrating,” County Administrator Peter Austin said. “We’re trying to minimize our losses and protect ourselves.”

The lawsuit against Tonigan and McQueen is “imminent,” according to Ekl.

“The fault lies in greedy special prosecutors who were off on their own agenda,” Ekl said.

The county is entrenched in a separate legal battle to have the special prosecutors’ hourly fee lowered. That lawsuit also attempts to recoup some or all of the more than $242,000 it has already paid to Tonigan and McQueen under Graham’s order.  That sum includes services through July 2010, leaving more than a year’s worth of bills still on the table, according to Austin.

The money paid thus far has come from the county’s general fund.

“Unfortunately, for the County Board and the residents, we have been involved in things that have never happened before,” Koehler said. “I am pleased we got some type of conclusion, but we are far from being done as far as what has been racked up by the special prosecutors, which is absurd. We’re going to fight this thing tooth and nail.”

www.twitter.com/lsynett

Share this story

Recommended stories