Madison County Circuit Clerk Mark von Nida said a clerical error that allows former U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton, 55, to retain driving privileges after his second DUI in two years was not politically motivated.
“There wouldn’t be a press conference if we were trying to make political hay out of this,” von Nida said at a press conference on Wednesday.
"The reason this is out, the reason this is an issue is because upon finding out about it I decided to take it and be completely transparent, understanding that the high profile nature of one of the persons, one of the defendants involved, would lead to ideas that there was something to it more than just human error," he added.
Von Nida said Wigginton did not benefit from the technical error due to any former position of power.
“People will ask that, people will believe what they want to believe,” he said. “All I can say is there are other cases that are involved that the same issue came up with, we became aware of it because of the high profile nature of Mr. Wigginton brought attention to it.”
Madison County Judiciary Committee chairman Mike Walkers agreed that politics were not involved.
“I don’t think it’s political,” Walters said. “I think we, my committee, have done a very good job of trying to keep politics out of who we work with, don’t work with. I don’t think a DUI is a political issue.”
The clerical error at issue involves a clerk who mistakenly scheduled a statutory summary suspension hearing beyond a required 30-day window.
Wigginton filed a petition to rescind his suspension on Feb. 1. The suspension would have stripped him of driving privileges until Feb. 15, 2022.
When 30 days came and went, Associate Judge Jennifer Hightower found the state failed to conduct the hearing within 30 days and ordered Wigginton’s statutory summary suspension be rescinded on March 7.
During the press conference, Walters said he was “disheartened” that the mistake now allows Wigginton to drive while his criminal case is pending.
Von Nida said this is an “isolated incident” and this is the first time he’s seen this type of mistake since he was elected Circuit Clerk in 2012.
“I, too, am outraged and mad that Mr. Wigginton caught a break. Mr. Wigginton does not deserve a break. Mr. Wigginton is probably not best served by this. He probably would be best served by facing the full repercussions of his actions and getting help. That’s not going to be the case,” von Nida said.
He added that the clerk who made the mistake is “mortified.” He also commented that the clerk has been working through medical issues.
He said procedures have been put in place to prevent similar errors going forward, including having a supervisor check hearing dates that the clerk at issue schedules to make sure they comply with statutory requirements. He said possible clerical issues relating to the clerk’s work became “obvious” with Wigginton’s case, but said supervisors are checking to make sure there were no other mistakes within the last three months.
Von Nida, who was joined by workers in his office, said a total of six cases were affected when a long-time clerk made the errors in scheduling hearings. He had previously said 10 cases were affected, but confirmed that four of the cases from the original number had hearings scheduled that were still within the appropriate time frame. Of the six affected, von Nida said two were resolved, but four of those cases were unable to be rescheduled in time, including Wigginton’s case.
Von Nida said that while Wigginton will retain his driving privileges for now, Wigginton could still ultimately lose his driver's license permanently.
Madison County Board member Chrissy Dutton, who described how her family was affected by drunk driving when her brother was killed, said the people deserve “transparent discussion” about how the mistake happened.
“I pray that no one suffers the loss of a loved one at the hands of one of these individuals who are now ‘off the hook’ and driving again with no accountability," she said.
She added that repeat DUI offenders might become “more brazen than ever” if they got off on a technicality.
“When repeat DUI offenders get their second and third DUI’s and beyond, I often wonder if they’ll ever stop until they kill someone,” she said.
Dutton said she was shocked when she learned that Wigginton would keep his driver’s license due to a “bureaucratic mix-up.”
“As a family member of a victim who lost his life to a drunk driver, I am outraged. I’m outraged that a man arrested for DUI twice in 19 months is somehow allowed to drive again just a few short months later because of a clerical error.
“This is especially troubling because Mr. Wigginton is seen by many as powerful and politically connected and just happens to be one of the people benefiting from this technicality,” Dutton said.
Dutton talked about her brother, Dave Harrison, who was killed by a drunk driver.
“Anyone who knew him, loved him,” she said.
She said that just six days before her brother’s 28th birthday in September 2002, he was hit and killed by a drunk driver in St.Charles.
The driver “had a long list of prior offenses as a juvenile and adult” and admitted to drinking at least 15 beers on the night of the crash.
Dutton said that after a night of drinking, the drunk driver was pulled over by a police officer and fled the scene when the officer exited his patrol car. The driver sped down a residential road, going about 75 miles per hour.
Further down the road, Harrison was pulling out of his apartment complex and “had no chance to react or get out of the way as the drunk driver slammed into his driver’s side door, killing him instantly.”
“Even after the crash, the driver tried to flee on foot but the officer was there to apprehend him. This drunk driver who recklessly took away my brother was fleeing police because he had an outstanding warrant for another felony offense. He had no business being on the road,” Dutton said.
Dutton said the drunk driver served his full sentence of 14 years in prison.
“I know we all make mistakes,” Dutton said. “Dave understood that too. But the hope is that when you mess up, you learn from it and try to go on making better choices in the future. Unfortunately, some aren’t held accountable and become repeat offenders wreaking havoc for law enforcement to deal with every day.
“When laws are broken, we have consequences set in place to pay for the crimes committed. While forgiving someone’s transgressions frees the forgiver, the offender still must suffer the consequences,” Dutton said.
According to the police report from Wigginton’s New Year’s Eve DUI, Edwardsville officer Nicholas Henderson responded to a Sonic restaurant on New Year’s Eve after an anonymous call was made about suspicions involving a silver Jeep.
Henderson wrote in his report that he spotted the Jeep and as it exited to Plummer Drive and drifted to the center of the road and the oncoming lane. Henderson initiated a stop.
Wigginton advised the officer that he had been a prosecutor for Madison County and was the U.S. attorney.
“I observed Wigginton to speak in a mumbled, slow, and deliberate manner as if struggling to organize his thoughts,” Henderson wrote.
The police report states that assisting officer Justin Towell smelled alcohol.
Wigginton told Towell he was staying at Holiday Inn, but told Henderson he was staying at Country Hearth Inn, the report states.
Henderson also wrote that Wigginton stumbled when exiting the Jeep and he stated he didn’t wish to perform tests in front of cameras. He also refused a breath test.
The report states that Wigginton couldn’t follow the eye stimulus and couldn’t keep his balance while listening to instructions; he took six steps and officers had to catch him.
Wigginton was issued tickets for driving under the influence and improper lane usage. He pleaded not guilty on Feb. 1.
Wigginton received his previous DUI after his Cadillac ran off U.S. 40 eastbound from Interstate 55-70 on May 23, 2017, wiping out 40 feet of fence and pulling up five posts.
Wigginton kept driving with a headlight missing, loose parts dragging, and enough damage under the hood of his vehicle to produce smoke and a grinding noise.
In that arrest, Troy officer Bryan Brown reported that Wigginton’s eyes were red and glassy and his speed was thick-tongued. The report also stated that Wigginton told the officer that he drank a glass of vodka.
According to the police report, when Brown asked for identification, Wigginton said, “You know who I am.”
Brown told him he did not know him, and Wigginton responded, “Your boss does.”
Wigginton refused a breath test at the police station and was later charged with driving under the influence, failing to reduce speed, leaving the scene, and lacking a headlight.
Special prosecutor David Rands negotiated a plea, in which Wigginton agreed to pay $1,500, seek treatment, and spend a year under court supervision, and Rands agreed to dismiss the lesser violations.
Rands also has been appointed to Wigginton's New Year's Eve DUI.