CHICAGO – Special prosecutor Brian Towne allegedly committed malicious and retaliatory prosecution as LaSalle County state’s attorney, according to a new civil lawsuit.
Plaintiff Julie Ajster, a lawyer in Peru, also alleges illegal search and seizure in a complaint she filed at U.S. district court on Feb. 1.
Towne charged her with two perjury counts in 2015, but the charges didn’t stick.
Ajster’s new complaint claims that subsequent to her representation of Danny French in a civil proceeding in LaSalle County, French was charged with telephone harassment against the opposing attorney in that proceeding. Ajster also represented French in the harassment case.
According to the complaint, in 2015, Towne traveled to Tampa, Fla. with Peru police chief Doug Bernabei and detective sergeant Dennis Hocking. There, they allegedly eavesdropped on her communications and recorded them without a warrant, probable cause, or consent.
Through the alleged eavesdropping, Towne and the others learned of her plans to sue Towne, Peru police and the city.
After the alleged eavesdropping, French was subsequently charged with witness intimidation and his bond was set at $750,000, which Ajster says was an unreasonably high amount.
Ajster filed an affidavit in an effort to reduce bond, but she was conflicted off the case as a potential witness, her suit claims.
She then began to advocate against Towne by widespread oral and written speech and through freedom of information requests.
“In particular, plaintiff worked to expose corruption with respect to Towne’s operation of the state’s attorney’s felony enforcement unit,” the complaint states.
On Nov. 3, 2015, Towne caused Ajster to be charged with perjury, with charges initiated out of personal animus and based on unlawful recordings of phone calls, the complaint states.
Ajster claims Towne procured a false and malicious charge by agreement with special prosecutor Dave Neal from the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor.
She claims that Towne, who led the appellate prosecutor’s board, wielded significant influence over Neal.
When LaSalle County voters rejected his bid for another term as state’s attorney in 2016, he had to resign from the board.
However, Towne transitioned from board to staff, taking a job in the special prosecution unit.
According to the complaint, Towne’s hiring created a conflict of interest for Neal.
Ajster’s case was later assigned to Grundy County state’s attorney Jason Helland, who on March 10 last year, moved to dismiss both perjury counts due to absence of evidence.
“Without defendant Towne’s personal animus and will to retaliate against plaintiff’s First Amendment activities, plaintiff would never have been charged with any crime,” the complaint states.
In a ruling last June 29, the Illinois Supreme Court found that Towne’s felony enforcement unit exceeded its statutory authority.
And last Sept. 5, a grand jury returned a 17 count indictment against Towne related to the unit.
Ajster seeks damages from Bernabei and Hocking in their individual capacities.
She claims Towne acted as their agent in the capacity of a police officer.
“Moreover, the police department directly encouraged his misconduct,” the complaint states.
Ajster’s complaint seeks indemnification against Peru, writing that the city authorized the conduct that led to Ajster’s injuries.
She claims lost liberty, exposure to scandal and disgrace, damage to reputation, mental and emotional suffering, humiliation, embarrassment and anguish.
Ajster currently pursues a wrongful death claim against Towne for the estate of Danny French, who died last year.
She added the claim to a malicious prosecution suit she filed for French in 2015.
Towne also faces a class action of drivers his unit stopped on Interstate 80.
Last month, two men who spent nine months in LaSalle County jail sued him.
As of Feb. 6, the appellate prosecutor’s website placed Towne in the special prosecution unit.
Ajster is represented by Chicago attorney Jared Kosoglad.