Judge Michael Toomin: Another Political Pawn or Will He Do The Right Thing?

Judge Michael Toomin: Another Political Pawn or Will He Do The Right Thing?

The Chicago Machine may not be the dynamo it once was. But don't kid yourselves - its influence is still very much alive in the fabric of Illinois Politics. As a matter of fact, the Machine has done very well in the fifty plus years I have followed it and no doubt will continue to do well long after my death. Let's face it, nearly every politician around here is beholden to someone. And that includes numerous judges who managed to land on the bench after giving up a political position or two along the way. It is what is and arrangements such as those are nothing new in Chicago and/or Illinois politics. Still, I have to wonder about what the cost of that is in the long run?

Now, I am sure most Cook County Judges will say that they are impartial and that there is no cost. But, that would probably contradict some pretty strange decisions handed down over the decades after politicians were caught red-handed with their hands in the public till. However, there is no reason to rehash the volumes of those old fuzzy decisions as the only judicial decision on my mind these days is the one where it appears that political favoritism was bestowed upon former Mayor Daley's nephew, R.J. Vanecko, in the David Koschman homicide investigation.

There have been far too many irregularities surrounding this case. I find it particularly disturbing that the Chicago Sun-Times Investigative Reporters have shown that some of these irregularities are not only blatant, but egregious. Sadly, these irregularities appear to have run the full gambit - from the initial Chicago Police Department investigation all the way up to the office of Cook County State's Attorney, Anita Alvarez. As such, it gives me no pleasure to say that I think Anita Alvarez should not only be removed from this investigation and a special prosecutor be appointed, but that she herself be investigated. Her repeated attempts to quash the appointment of a special prosecutor just leads me to believe that there are even more questions which need answering.

Never the less, Nanci Koschman, as well as all Cook County residents, deserve the answers to every question surrounding the death of her son David. And I will say this too - this is obviously not a women who is hellbent on vengeance or even filled with hate. This is simply a matter where a mother wants closure in order to move on with her own life. At least that is how I view her after reading the comments attributed to her in the Chicago Sun-Times:

"I lived in Chicago . . . was born and raised in Chicago . . . worked downtown, loved the city. I’m not mad at Daley, not even mad at R.J. . . . He didn’t intend to hurt my son. But Vanecko ran, his friends lied to police, who took 25 days to even bring him in for questioning, files went missing and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office even today can’t locate a single document reflecting its own involvement."

Also according to the Sun-Times; "people often ask Mrs. Koschman why she never sued. “How do I put a price on David’s life?” she asks. Instead, to pay for his funeral, she refinanced her house. She’s still paying on the loan. “It isn’t about being greedy. It’s about justice.”"

Well, let us all hope and pray she finally gets that justice because it sure seems to me as if certain people beholden to the system have gone to extraordinary lengths to deny her that. And the way I see it, raises the question if there has been any official misconduct and/or malfeasance? Whatever the case, after seven years of hee-hawing the time has come where we need to say that enough is enough already.

Now please take what I am about to say next very seriously. The "unconnected common man," especially a Black one, would still be sitting in a slammer somewhere while authorities completed a "thorough investigation" if they had been the one to do what R.J. Vanecko is alleged to have done. And trust me a regular stiff like you or I would never have been given a "25 day after the fact police lineup" either. I am sure that if the aspects of this case were reversed and it was R.J. Vanecko who had died, then David Koschman would probably have been indicted immediately. Hell, not only would he have been indicted, but R.J. would have had a park named after him by now.

But hey, Chicago is what it has been for as long as I have known her. And despite all her other positives, she has been a city divided between the have's and have-not's. The politically connected and their offspring have routinely been given special considerations, especially the relatives of the so-called political blue-bloods. So whether it be prosecutors, judges or even an ordinary, but very alert, beat cop - someone is always looking out for the favored few. After all, I am sure that that vigilance often leads to people moving up the ladder. Yes-siree, just as that old saying goes -  one hand washes the other.

Naturally, not every prosecutor, Inspector General or Chicago cop is looking to make their bones with the political elite. But there have been plenty of them just the same. Meanwhile, I also believe that Chicago's Inspector General, Joe Ferguson, has worked very hard to do the right thing even though stone walls were put up by the former mayoral administration (and I suspect even the current one). I also have to give a lot of credit to that cop who nailed State Senate President John Cullerton's son after he used a state vehicle during one of his drinking and driving episodes. It's just too bad the judge in that case felt that a slap on the hand was deemed sufficient. Hmm....

Now we have another situation to watch. However this one is far more serious than a DUI charge. Cook County Judge Michael Toomin must decide whether or not the kin of a powerful political family gets to walk away without taking full responsibility for his alleged actions. And even though I was encouraged by some of Judge Toomin's comments during last week's hearing, I am still smart enough to know that that could amount to nothing but a smoke screen given the city's history.

In fairness, though, I have no reason to suspect that Judge Toomin will not render a fair decision. But until he renders that decision on Friday, we really won't know if he is just another a political pawn in a rigged system or whether he will actually do the right thing here by allowing a special prosecutor to investigate the David Koschman homocide.

And trust me, given the bizarre manner in which this case has been handled up until this point, his decision bears a very close watch.

Especially by us everyday stiffs.

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  • I commented on this on Berkowitz a couple of days ago. At least in the Zimmerman case, it appears that the prosecutor (not the sheriff) made the determination and has stepped aside, so that's distinguishable from this case.

    While there is generally a taint with regard to political matters around here, I wonder what the popular response would be if there is sufficient evidence to support the prosecutor's decision that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute based on the asserted claim of self defense. Like I said there, I'm not on that jury and don't have the evidence before me, but there are certain presumptions among the public.

  • In reply to jack:

    Jack, the presumptions among the public is exactly why we need a special prosecutor in this case. I think the Sun-Times Reporters Novak and I forget the other byline did a real good job in raising a red flag, especially regarding the actions of the two detectives at the 15th District (Belmont). Now, the self-defense angle could be plausable, but one must wonder why Vanecko ran, went to another bar and then had his connected friends mislead the police with the initial report. Just too many questions that need answering on those points; then you have a states attorney who loses files in a possible capital case? Come on - that just doesn't happen unless of course there is is someone trying to protect someone else.

    I think it absolutely necessary an Independent Special Prosecuter (preferably a federal one unconnected to Chicago) review the entire chain of events. And if at that point it can be concluded that there was nothing to compel authorities to idict well then so be it.

    But something has not sounded right from the get go and as such needs a fresh look, by a different set of eyes. Otherwise those public presumptions will continue unabated.

  • In reply to Michael Ciric:

    You aren't going to get a federal prosecutor, unless it is an old retired one. On the other hand, Webb is available, except he went over to the dark side, and IIRC, the special prosecutor in the prosecutions of DuPage county officials with regard to the Cruz case didn't get any convictions. Apparently there is some state agency of retired state's attorneys that get the appointment, anyway. So, you would have to pray that some former state's attorney from Morgan County (Jacksonville, IL) is going to do a thorough job.

    I acknowledge that there is an antiseptic purpose to appointing an outsider, but at least Berkowitz seems convinced that Toomin isn't going to do his job, however Berkowitz perceives what that job is, so unless the Feds want to bring a civil rights action against someone (like Holder threatened to do in Florida), I don't know if anyone will be convinced until Venecko gets some time. And, as shown by the post-Burge attempts to pin down Daley, which can only be in his capacity as mayor, not state's attorney, no one is going to be able to pin anything on the state's attorney, due to discretionary prosecutorial immunity.

  • In reply to jack:

    Can't argue with your logic and I too believe that Toomin Will NOT do his job, but hey I'll give him the benefit of the doubt until Friday. As for a Civil Rights Action - I can see that happening as Koschman's mother appears intent and committed to getting justice. Hell, I would use every legal avenue at my disposal.

    Between you and I, I have a feeling that RJ Vanecko will get his cookies handed to him somewhere down the line since it isn't much of a secret he is a firecracker with a short fuse. As they say - there's always someone tougher (and nutty enough as we have seem with that Stand Your Ground fiasco in Florida). Personally, though, I'd rather see him stand trial - that would send a scarier message than Blago's 14 years did. Then there would really be a lot of people crapping their pants around here for the first time. Oh well there I go daydreaming again that change is actually possible in Chicago Politics.

  • In reply to Michael Ciric:

    In fact, I'm not even sure against whom a civil rights case could be brought in this case. In the Florida case, there is the racial element. On the other hand, Koschman's mother (or any "victim") does not have a legal right to see that anyone is prosecuted, which is the only right being asserted here. Even if the allegations of pervasive corruption play out, that doesn't directly help her cause.

  • In reply to jack:

    I see. What about malfeasance / misfeasance/ official misconduct? Surely there are numerous legal angles remaining?

  • In reply to Michael Ciric:

    In that malfeasance of state officers itself is not a federal crime, in the absence of actual or attempted bribery, extortion, wire fraud, denial of civil rights, etc., that would be left to whether Lisa Madigan or some judge had jurisdiction over the State's Attorney. You can infer where I am going with that.

    Heck, even the federal "honest services" law was construed by the Supreme Court in the Conrad Black case only to mean "if you engage in extortion."

  • In reply to jack:

    I suppose this all validates my view that legislatures, et all enact laws that shelter their own activities and limit their responsibilities. The common is left to abide by other sets of archaic laws with a different burden of proof.

  • Well. of course. One can, with some difficulty, sue a doctor or lawyer for malfeasance (malpractice), but not a legislator or a civil serpent, in the latter case unless there is a section 1983 (civil rights) violation. Of course, in the medical malpractice area, the Illinois legislature intentionally passed an unconstitutional law, so the doctors are still on the hook.

    Almost a similar issue with the police (i.e. there was a Car and Driver column in the May issue about LAPD cops who t-boned someone else's car, and claimed they were only doing 40 when the computer in the car said 78), except those in New Orleans apparently got theirs.

    Did you really think that there was recourse against Todd Stroger before he could be voted out of office? Same for at least the previous Will County States Attorneys. At least Blago could be impeached when it got too bad for the legislature to ignore.

  • In reply to jack:

    Well of course I never thought we had recourse, but one would think in a Democracy we would. Just goes to show you where we are really at. But hey I am the kind of guy who believes everyone should be held accountable and in spite of that - try to live my life that way and instill those values onto my kid. Maybe someday another generation will actually force a change so no one can hide behind the law. Until then, ahhh dreaming....

  • According to News reports Toomin appointed the special prosecutor.

    At least you did not go out as far on the limb as Berkowitz did. And, of course, my first comment becomes moot, except to the extent of finding out who the special prosecutor will be.

  • In reply to jack:

    I see that and more importantly, am very encouraged at the comments attributed to Judge Toomin. Toomin, I thought, was very direct in his conclusions regarding the "missing files syndrome" despite the fact that he is keenly aware of how "things work in the Cook County States Attorney's office whenever faced with high profile cases. Historically, this has been an office that has twisted the definition of justice in order to protect the status quo. Of course, we now need to see "exactly whom that special prosecutor will be" - but hopefully this will be a person outside the quagmire.

    Kudos to Judge Toomin for putting right before might even though he could have used the usual smoke and mirrors we have seen from other questionable cases. Toomin renewed my faith, at least temporarily.

    Jack, not sure if you are a religous person or not, if so Happy Easter, or Passover, etc.. to you and yours. Thanks for all your input over the time I have spent on this site. It is appreciated and has always been enlightening. Have a great week end.

  • Based on comment #3 ".On the other hand, Webb is available, except he went over to the dark side," my amazing predictive powers came through, at least this time. Tribune article.

  • In reply to jack:

    Good Job - Think I'll Dub Thee Psychic Jack.

  • In reply to Michael Ciric:

    Well, I didn't get the reapportionment suit completely right, but sort of pulled myself out of that one on Bon Bini, who apparently doesn't get any play in the right pane.

    However, the Illinois Combine is more predictable.

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