Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, April 10, 2020

Madison County ‘investigation’ is finally over, or is it?

Our View

Jan 29, 2020

Ourview

Well, what was that all about? That’s what we’re wondering at the conclusion of a two-year investigation that the persons who started it seem reluctant to discontinue.

During the middle of the work day on Jan. 10, 2018, seemingly to maximize attention, a special investigative task force raided offices in Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler’s administration. Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons claimed to have evidence of possible illegal conduct by county officials.

Gibbons’ refusal “to discuss the search warrant or the grand jury subpoena or provide any representation, advice, or counsel to the accused parties” prompted the Prenzler team to petition for appointment of a special prosecutor.

Given that Gibbons and his staff are required by law to provide defense counsel for Madison County officials, and given that Gibbons had set in motion the investigation that put those officials in need of such counsel, Gibbons was effectively seeking to prosecute and defend the same people at the same time.

After hearing details of the grand jury investigation, visiting Associate Judge Jerry Crisel concluded that Gibbons had a conflict of interest, removed him from any investigation or prosecution of the petitioners, and appointed the Illinois Attorney General to replace him.

While granting the petitioners’ request for appointment of a special prosecutor, Crisel declined to appoint private counsel for them at county expense, finding that “the sitting State’s Attorney is still charged with that duty, the conflict having been removed.” Prenzler’s team declined such representation, and instead chose outside counsel on their own dime.

No indictments and no charges after two years. So, at a hearing last week, Crisel ordered a stop to the investigation and terminated the appointment of the state attorney general as special prosecutor.

That should be the end of it – except for the obvious question of how this apparently fruitless and possibly vindictive investigation got started in the first place, and why.

If it is over, per Crisel’s order, there’s no reason not to release all legal documents - search warrants, affidavits, and such - that might provide answers to that question. The citizens of Madison County have a right to know what it was all about.

If this investigation is not over, an explanation is in order. Does keeping it going have anything to do with an election that is nine months out? Is it important to keep those search warrants and affidavits under seal to avoid embarrassment?

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