The chief judge of the Sixth Circuit has appointed a special prosecutor to review open meetings violations that the Piatt County State's Attorney's office has alleged against members of the county board she represents.
Judge Karle Koritz last week found that State's Attorney Dana Rhoades had a conflict of interest when her office filed misdemeanor criminal charges against five county board members alleging that they violated the Open Meetings Act on May 13 when a county board meeting held via Zoom conference was apparently disconnected for a closed session. Some members of the public were not able to reconnect after the board returned to open session.
The misdemeanor charges were filed on May 15, with Rhoades saying they were filed in response to citizen complaints.
County board member Shannon Carroll asked the court on May 18 to appoint lawyers for county board members, saying Rhoades “refused to tell me if the office would represent the board or go against us. Right now the board has zero legal counsel we can freely talk to,” he said in a court motion.
Rhoades had said she would ask the Illinois Attorney General's office to represent the board members but Koritz said that decision should be made by a judge, not her.
“The authority to appoint a special prosecutor lies solely with the court,” said Kortiz, who chastised Rhoades for not going through that procedure.
“The court is bewildered as to why a state's attorney's office that recognizes its own conflict would choose to file charges before seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor,” he wrote in his July 1 ruling.
In response to Carroll's request for an outside attorney, the state's attorney's office conceded that they are witnesses and “would not and could not, serve as prosecutors.”
With that admission, Koritz wrote “then it would follow that it should not make a charging decision. The decision whether to charge an individual and what charge to file are the two most fundamental and powerful exercises of prosecutorial discretion. Having recognized that 'it would not and could not serve as prosecutors,' the state's attorney's office has nevertheless filed no petition to recuse itself.”
Koritz vacated all future court dates until a special prosecutor determines whether to proceed on the current charges, file different or separate charges, or decline prosecution.
Koritz appointed the Illinois State's Attorney's Appellate Prosecutor to look into the allegations. That office exists to handle criminal cases that a state’s attorney should not handle due to conflicts.
“I think that this is a very fair resolution,” said Rhoades after the ruling. “I was preparing to ask that the attorney general's office be appointed anyway, so this works out for everybody involved.”