Let’s briefly return to our lengthy coverage of the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office sexual harassment scandal because it has a bearing on a fascinating story that’s unfolding as we speak. If you recall, the prosecutor behind a 251-page sexual harassment investigation was finally fired in February of 2018.
But because they firmly believe they’re miles above the law they’re sworn to uphold, State’s Attorney Joe McMahon and Civil Division Head Joe Lulves provided that prosecutor with a “severance package” consisting of keeping him on the payroll through May 2018.
Not only was this undocumented agreement a patently illegal case of ghost payrolling, but it put the taxpayer on the hook for $20,000 in salary and benefits while that prosecutor toiled as a criminal defense attorney for a northern Kane County law firm.
No irony there, right?
The reason this transaction was handled in such an insidious manner is Joe McMahon knows a document that doesn’t exist can’t be subject to a Freedom of Information request. But we’re about to put that blatant moral failing in perspective by noting how brand-new 16th Circuit Chief Judge Clint Hull just made the State’s Attorney look like a rank amateur.
Please allow me to set the stage.
Shortly after a meeting with Judge Hull, Kane County Public Defender Kelli Childress submitted her resignation on the afternoon of December 18, 2019, effective at 4:30 p.m. on December 20. So, much for a smooth transition! It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to determine this was nothing more than a thinly veiled termination.
And the fact that Ms. Childress left without a peep clearly indicates there was some sort of quid pro quo.
To wit, she unequivocally indicated to anyone who would listen – myself included – that if those circuit judges ever had the temerity to vote her out, there would be legal apocalyptic hell to pay. True to her word, and perceiving that the end was near, Childress sought out the Kinnally, Flaherty, Krentz, Loran, Hodge, and Masur law firm to do just that.
But the truth is, given her greatest hits, which include but aren’t nearly limited to:
- “Dating” the jury foreman from one of her rare trial appearances
- Failing to show up for work to the point where I received anonymous snail mail about her eternal absence
- Bragging about the Central American trips that led to those absences on social media
- Refusing to take a caseload despite the judges begging her to do so
- And my personal favorite, accusing Judge Kevin Busch of sexual harassment, and then refusing to cooperate with the Judicial Inquiry Board investigation
So she should’ve been fired four years ago, and any lawsuit against the County would’ve fallen flatter than a new Bill Cosby comedy album. Let’s just say Kelli Childress is the only person on the planet who’s ever made me feel sorry for Kevin Busch, a man who shouldn’t be allowed to judge a fourth-grade science fair, much less serve on the bench.
Given my past coverage of Ms. Childress’ unyielding antics, I was simply happy to see her go and I had no intention of beating a dead horse. But I was curious about the details of that too-obvious severance deal, and since you can’t FOIA the judiciary or the Public Defenders, I turned to the Treasurer’s Office and was quite surprised that she’d received no lump sum payment.
With that revelation in hand, I moved on to the Human Resources department only to be told they had absolutely no record of this “resignation” two long weeks after the fact. There was no letter, no notice from the Chief Judge’s Office, and no documentation of any kind.
So, I called and emailed Judge Hull, but all he’d do was confirm Childress’ “resignation” date through one of his administrative assistants. My other questions were met with a resounding “no comment.”
But I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now!
When you add Hull’s silence to what I learned from the Treasurer and Human Resources, it’s abundantly clear that Childress’ “severance package” consists of keeping her on the County payroll for an indeterminate amount of time. That means Judge Hull forged a verbal ghost payroller deal that makes McMahon’s pale in comparison.
Remember! Verbal agreements aren’t FOIAable.
Hull thought he’d get away with it by appointing current First Assistant, Brenda Willett, as interim Public Defender. I’m not saying Brenda isn’t capable – she’s successfully run that office for the last four years – but the plan clearly was to leave the main job vacant while Willett served at her current $121,000 salary until this “severance package” ran its course. That way, it wouldn’t unduly affect the Public Defender’s budget and the County Board wouldn’t have to get involved.
Though the evidence is more than overwhelming, to further prove my point, despite Hull’s press promise to the contrary, the PD’s job remains unposted – a legal requirement for all open county positions – three long weeks after Childress tendered her “resignation.”
I spoke with a government employment attorney, and they said this “deal” would likely last for at least six to eight months. That means, with salary and benefits, the Kane County taxpayer will be liable for $100,000 to $150,000 paid to an employee who rarely showed up, so she can continue not to show up.
It’s nice work if you can get it.
So why didn’t Hull and the judges simply fire Childress? C’mon there’s no possible litigation that could’ve exceeded 100 grand and the State’s Attorney’s Office just happens to be rife with attorneys who could’ve handled the case. He did it because, though she’s always been a fascinating study, Childress knows where all the bodies are buried, and those ensuing revelations would’ve been beyond embarrassing for the judiciary.
Ah! But the fat lady hasn’t started shrieking quite yet. Shortly after being posted here, the Treasurer and Chairman will receive a copy of this column. You see, the Treasurer has a statutory duty to safeguard County assets, and not only does ghost payrolling fall outside of that standard, but as previously noted, it’s quite illegal.
Of course, I’d ask the State’s Attorney to intervene, but all he’d do is give Hull lessons in how to get away with it.
So now Chief Judge Hull has two choices. He can either honor the now-exposed deal and face prosecution, or he can cancel it, Childress will sue, and trust me, the legal battle will be one for the ages.
Either way, it’s bound to be a fascinating proposition.