First, I want to thank those sources who, once again, made sure The First Ward was the first to break the news that, after two-and-a-half dismal terms, Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon will not be seeking reelection in 2020.
Of course, in his letter to the press, McMahon tried to spin his disastrous tenure thusly:
It is my hope that my successor maintains the integrity, professionalism and commitment to justice that has been so important to me and my colleagues over the last 10 years. The citizens of Kane County deserve no less.
Joe! Perhaps if you repeat that paragraph often enough, you might actually start to believe it.
The truth is, McMahon’s administration was marred with an utter lack of staff supervision, across-the-board incompetence, arrogance, vindictiveness, and a vast unwillingness to apply justice as it was intended to be applied.
To put that statement in perspective, my journalistic efforts have coincided with both former SAO John Barsanti’s and McMahon’s terms. And while I’d receive about one complaint a year about John – none of which came from attorneys or former prosecutors, the multiple weekly complaints about McMahon were primarily from attorneys and former prosecutors.
And that all starts with McMahon’s vast political naivete, and that starts with the fact he was appointed and never had to run a contested election.
McMahon was excellent with the press, but how someone that smart has absolutely no clue as to the political consequences of his actions consistently baffles me and many others. Even when we were on good terms and I helped him navigate the Chairman and the County Board, he never really “got it.”
Yes! Chairman Chris Lauzen can be difficult to deal with, but he’s equally as easy to please. And all the other Collar County chairmen have similar personalities, so it’s not as if he’s some sort of rarity. Have you ever met McHenry County’s Jack Franks?
I was just one of the folks who warned McMahon NOT to make Civil Division head Joe Lulves the County Board attorney, but he wouldn’t listen. And once Lulves pulled his typical arrogant and dismissive BS with the Chairman, all bets were off and Lauzen’s and McMahon’s relationship never recovered. The sad result was a host of pointless infighting and a whole lot of wasted time.
And McMahon’s inexplicable overarching obliviousness was greatly compounded by his addiction to pursuing fame and glory. Sure, the periods where he was rarely in the office were problematic, but they weren’t nearly as questionable as the fact his head was never in it. He was always on the lookout for something “better.”
First, it was that federal prosecutor gig, and when that fell through, it was the Cook County Jason Van Dyke prosecution. McMahon can say he was “appointed” to that gig till he’s blue in the face, but while every other Illinois state’s attorney hid in the bathroom when that fateful call came, McMahon actively sought the jop. He thought that taking that case would be his ticket to a downtown law firm.
In the end, it may well tun out to be, but that only comes on the backs of the shortchanged Kane County voters because, as the Good Book says, “no man can serve two masters.”
So, when McMahon, First Assistant Jodie Gleason, and misdemeanor head Joe Cullen spent months in Chicago, the frontline staff were cast adrift with no guidance or direction to the point where one insider said they felt like they were being “thrown to the wolves.”
Office morale plummeted to the point where that Peck Road and Route 38 entrance became the kind of revolving door where they could barely keep up with replacing the departing staff. Those who did remain didn’t even know to whom they were supposed to report.
My favorite revelation was the one where the new prosecutor quit by leaving a sticky note on his supervisor’s office door.
Generally left to their own devices, any notion of prosecutorial discretion went right out the window. The theory was, “Charge ‘em all and let the judges sort it out,” but that’s not the way it’s supposed to work. The current KCSAO legal theory looks a lot more like fascism than any kind of justice.
As I proved in this February 2018 column, despite the local newspaper reports, there has been no significant increase in Kane County felony cases since 2014. That number is remarkably consistent. What has changed is Chief Felony Prosecutor Bill Engerman absolutely refuses to separate the wheat from the chaff, and let me tell you, some judges are NOT amused that this blatant abrogation of responsibility then falls on their black dressed shoulders.
Since I’m taking four well-earned days off writing, on Monday, part two will cover the massive failures of the civil division, how the KCSAO libeled acquitted defendants, the still unfolding sexual harassment scandal, and why Joe McMahon is really leaving.