A judge appointed to preside over the forgery and official misconduct case of Piatt County Board Chairman Ray Spencer has ruled against two interested parties who wanted to intervene.
Attorney Jim Ayers, representing county board member Renee Fruendt and former county board chairman Randy Keith, told Judge Willam Yoder on Oct. 21 that a grand jury that indicted Spencer in January has continued to investigate other county board members and officials. He argued that a conflict of interest by the state's attorney's office should allow for interveners, since those parties could also be charged by the grand jury.
Ayers noted that Piatt County Judge Karle Koritz was critical of the state's attorney's office for filing subsequent Open Meets Act violation charges, and said a special prosecutor should have been appointed before, not after charges were levied.
“There is a complete pattern in this case,” said Ayers, at Monticello attorney.
“In (the open meetings case), the state's attorney's office filed charges, then said 'whoops,' we have a conflict,” added Stephen Willoughby, an attorney for Spencer.
But special prosecutor Michael Falangario of the Illinois Attorney General's office, countered that the open meetings violation filing is separate, and should not be brought in as part of the forgery/official misconduct case.
"The purpose of the (state) statute has been fulfilled,” he said, noting that a special prosecutor is now on the case. He added that the forgery charges came from a grand jury.
“Our position is they don't have status to intercede,” said Falangario.
Judge Yoder, A McLean County judge who was assigned to hear the case after the Sixth Circuit judges had recused themselves, agreed, noted that he was hearing only the grand jury charges against Spencer, not the alleged open meetings violations.
"The alignment of these cases is unusual," Yoder said, but agreed that Fruendt and Keith were not interested parties in the case against Spencer. Action was not taken on a defense motion to dismiss the grand jury, which has met four additional times since the indictment of Spencer in January.
No additional charges have come out of those sessions.
Spencer is due back in court Dec. 16 for a status hearing on the forgery case. A trial date has not been set.
The forgery charge stems from an email from Piatt County State's Attorney Dana Rhoades that Spencer allegedly altered and forwarded to a member of the media. The official misconduct charges allege that he attempted to secure outside legal advice for the Piatt County board, which is only allowed with the permission of the sitting state's attorney.
The Open Meetings Act violations were filed after a May 13 remote county board meeting when some members of the public were not able to reconnect after a closed session.
Koritz appointed a special prosecutor for that case in July, and in his ruling said “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.”
The special prosecutor was tasked with determining whether to proceed with those charges, but no action has been taken to date.