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Judge rules against appointing special prosecutor to investigate McHenry County sheriff

A judge ruled Wednesday that he will not appoint a special prosecutor to investigate McHenry County Sheriff Keith Nygren.

McHenry County Associate Judge Thomas Meyer ruled that State’s Attorney Louis Bianchi is choosing at his own discretion not to investigate Nygren, but case law only supports appointment of a special prosecutor if the state’s attorney is sick or unavailable.

Bianchi had testified that he can’t investigate the sheriff because it would be a conflict of interest, since he must represent the sheriff in numerous civil and criminal cases.

But Meyer said the decision not to investigate was “an exercise of discretion” by the state’s attorney.

“There is no per se conflict prohibiting investigation of the sheriff,” he said.

If the state’s attorney can investigate a sheriff’s deputy accused of a sex crime, the judge said, he can investigate the sheriff.

“With all due respect to the judge’s opinion, I still believe I have a conflict,” Bianchi said after the ruling. “I cannot defend the sheriff in the morning and investigate him in the afternoon.”

Zane Seipler, a McHenry County sheriff’s deputy, had asked for the special prosecutor to look into allegations that Sheriff Nygren was improperly using a seven-pointed campaign star on office property, such as letterheads and vehicles.

Seipler’s attorney, Blake Horwitz, said his client would have to consider whether to appeal the ruling. Based on the judge’s ruling, he said, Bianchi has full legal authority to investigate Nygren on a variety of more serious allegations raised during litigation, but has decided not to do that.

Seipler, who ran unsuccessfully for the sheriff’s office in 2010, was fired by the sheriff for falsifying two traffic tickets, but recently got his job back through arbitration.

Seipler also has a federal suit pending against the office on claims he was fired for speaking out against officers targeting Hispanics for traffic stops.

Attorney Bill Caldwell, who represented McHenry County in the matter, said county officials were happy they wouldn’t have to have another special prosecutor. Last year, a special prosecutor charged Bianchi with improper use of county resources for campaign purposes and improper handling of cases, but Bianchi was exonerated in court.

Tribune reporter Robert McCoppin contributed

 

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