Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Jan. 26, 2015, 8:21am

Madison County Treasurer Kurt Prenzler argues that the county's top legal officer has a conflict of interest in representing him in a suit seeking damages for an alleged tax sale scheme.

On Thursday, Prenzler filed a petition seeking a new attorney other than one from the State's Attorney's office because he has been an outspoken critic of that office in its handling of issues that sent former treasurer Fred Bathon to prison for rigging bids that fraudulently inflated tax sales.

Prenzler explains that he and defendant Madison County are both currently represented by the Madison County State's Attorney in the lawsuit. Prenzler is specifically represented by assistant state's attorney Stephen J. Maasen.

Prenzler, Republican, who had run unsuccessfully against Bathon, Democrat, in 2006, blew the whistle on the scheme that sent the former treasurer to prison.

Bathon, who served as treasurer from 1998 until his resignation in 2009, pleaded guilty in 2013 to violating the Sherman Antitrust Act in relation to rigged tax sales. He was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Tax buyers John Vassen, Scott McLean and Barrett Rochman also pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme and are serving prison sentences.

Prenzler, who defeated Bathon's successor Frank Miles in 2010 and won re-election last November over Democrat challenger Marleen Suarez, says his campaign focused “in substantial part” on Bathon’s conduct in the illegal tax bidding.

He argues that his “outspoken opposition” of the former Madison County officials’ actions may put him in a position inconsistent with Madison County and its defense in this case.

“As such, the State's Attorney of Madison County, in an effort to defend the County as well as defend the undersigned, may find himself in a position where the undersigned and Madison County have different positions on various matters of defense,” the petition states.

He added that his counsel, Maasen, has already taken some positions before the court that he would have preferred not be taken.

During a class certification hearing on Thursday, before visiting Clinton County Associate Judge William Becker, Prenzler brought up his petition for a new attorney due to a conflict of interest after Maasen made a statement about a spreadsheet that Prenzler was asked to put together.

The spreadsheet compared tax sales that occurred under Prenzler's computer automated system of tax buying to Bathon’s system – which in effect were comparing different years and different processes.

Attorney Don Weber, who represents plaintiffs in the class action, spoke up regarding Prenzler's petition.

“Judge, that is pretty important because Mr. Maasen just represented something about Mr. Prenzler, that I believe Mr. Prenzler is not in his position, that’s why he wants a special prosecutor, an independent lawyer to represent him," Weber said.

State's Attorney Tom Gibbons responded,“I don’t believe Mr. Weber represents Mr. Prenzler and here he is arguing on his behalf at this time."

Gibbons added that legally, the State's Attorney is still Prenzler’s attorney, and Weber should not be speaking on behalf of the Treasurer.

“Nor should you,” Weber responded.

Becker ultimately chose to address the issue at a later date.

In his petition, Prenzler notes that the State's Attorney has not performed any misconduct, but argues that a conflict of interest exists.

As a result, he requests the court to allow him to choose his own attorney, to be paid for out of either the State's Attorney budget or the Madison County Treasurer budget.

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