Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans said today he has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to name a judge from outside of Cook County to preside over the trial of a nephew of former Mayor Richard Daley in a 2004 death of David Koschman.
Evans agreed to a request earlier today from Judge Michael Toomin that a judge from outside Cook County preside over the trial of Richard Vanecko because of the appearance of impropriety.
“To permit the appearance of impropriety acknowledged by Judge Toomin to persist would undermine public confidence in the administration of justice,” Evans said in a letter to the state’s highest court.
Toomin agreed and said he would refer the matter to Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans, who could ask the Illinois Supreme Court to decide the issue.
Toomin said he had the utmost respect for judges in Cook County and he believed there were plenty that could be fair and impartial, but he said he felt a judge needed to be brought in from outside the county because of “perceptions that have nonetheless pervaded this case.”
Whatever Cook County judge was selected would be scrutinized not by the soundness of their rulings “but rather by the road taken by that particular judge to get to where he or she is today,” including any political friendships or professional connections, Toomin said.
Vanecko's attorneys strongly objected, telling Toomin that to go outside Cook County for a judge would give the case preferential treatment than it doesn’t need.
Speaking to reporters in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Court Building, Vanecko’s attorney, Marc Martin, called it "disappointing" that the perception exists that Vanecko can't receive a fair trial from a Cook County judge.
"We are really outraged by the fact that because some newspaper reporters think that Cook County judges can't be fair that this case has to be reassigned," Martin said.
But Martin went on to call the prosecution witnesses in the case “liars” and said, “You can bring a judge from Kalamazoo for all I care.”
The case had been assigned last week to Judge Arthur Hill, but he declined to voluntarily withdraw despite ties to Daley, saying he could be “fair and impartial.” However, Hill reconsidered and withdrew today.
“I am ready and able to handle this case, but in an abundance of caution, I am recusing myself from further proceedings,” Hill said.
After Vanecko entered a not guilty plea last week, Hill told attorneys he was a prosecutor when Daley was Cook County state's attorney, and that Daley later appointed him to the board of the Chicago Transit Authority as mayor.
Hill also rose to the No. 2 post under State's Attorney Dick Devine, a top Daley ally whose office declined to prosecute Vanecko eight years ago.
Though Hill said he believed he could be impartial, he indicated to Vanecko's attorneys and special prosecutor Dan Webb that he would consider stepping aside.
Vanecko, who resides in Costa Mesa, Calif., turned himself in to authorities in Chicago earlier this month and is free on a $100,000 bond.
A special grand jury found that Vanecko, the son of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s sister Mary, “recklessly performed acts which were likely to cause great bodily harm to another.”
Koschman, 21, of Mount Prospect, had been drinking in the Rush Street nightlife district early on April 24, 2004 when he and his friends quarreled with a group that included Vanecko. During the altercation, Koschman was knocked to the street, hitting the back of his head on the pavement. He died 11 days later.
Police at the time said Koschman was the aggressor and closed the case without charges. In announcing the indictment, Webb, a former U.S. attorney, noted that at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Vanecko towered over Koschman, who was 5-foot-5 and 125 pounds.
Webb said the grand jury is still probing how the original investigation was conducted.
Vanecko's attorneys released a statement denying wrongdoing.
If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Vanecko faces from probation up to 5 years in prison.