What happens when the state’s attorney’s office has no heart

What happens when the state’s attorney’s office has no heart

I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice. – Abraham Lincoln

I’m sure you knew this one was coming, but some columns require more consideration than others, and that’s particularly true when you’re writing about a well-known friend’s suicide. It’s not something I’m looking forward to, but someone needs to make the impending point, and it may as well be me.

It’s been almost three months to the day since former Kane County Circuit Clerk Tom Hartwell took his own life in the aftermath of the Kane County State’s Attorney’s office hitting him with 19 separate felony charges for allegedly misappropriating public funds. It’s a quintessential case of prosecutors trying to kill a mosquito with a sledgehammer.

To be perfectly clear, the choice to shuffle off this mortal coil ultimately rests with the individual who, for whatever internal reason, believes there’s no other way out. But that reality doesn’t begin to absolve the people and entities who did their best to grease those skids. And that downhill slide started with those absurd 19 charges, which turned out to be ten different ways of saying the same two goddamn things.

The KCSAO will tell you it wasn’t they, but the grand jury who imposed those multiple counts. But that would be just about as disingenuous as the Grand Cheeto claiming that four separate sets of felony charges make him the victim of a witch hunt. Yes. Only the grand jury can approve those charges, but it’s the state’s attorney who provides them with the criminal possibilities. As the great New York Chief Judge Sol Wachtler infamously declared, “A grand jury would indict a ham sandwich, if that’s what you wanted.”

That means the responsibility for this series of pointless multiple felonies rests solely with Jamie Mosser and her top prosecutors.

I, better than most, understand, if it existed in a vacuum, our adversarial system demands each side try to get the best “deal” possible. But nothing in this life exists in a vacuum, and to smack a man with a spotless record with 19 felonies just to get a leg up on the plea bargain process stops just short of being unconscionable.

It’s certainly nothing to write home about, particularly when our assistant states attorneys (ASAs) are no shining paragons of the standard they so eagerly thrust upon everyone else.

Margaret O’Brien would lie to convict her own mother, Kelly Orland’s consistent behavior has been nothing short of despicable, and Alex Bederka was a serial sexual harasser enabled by former state’s attorney Joe McMahon. Former felony prosecutor Bill Engerman made it all the way to judge despite horrifically berating female ASAs every step of the way, not to mention the too-numerous-to-list ASAs caught driving under the influence (and those who were given a pass by the police).

It’s not that I expect perfection from anyone, but I do expect a lot more from those charged with prosecuting the law. In light of their own abundantly evident foibles, wouldn’t you think they’d apply some sense of humanity to the defendants they so easily dismiss as their non-human opposition?

Did Ms. Mosser and any of her felony prosecutors stop for a second to consider how this unnecessary barrage of charges would affect a decent man who valued his reputation and was already desperate enough to make a truly stupid mistake? You don’t have to respond to that question. I already know the answer.

The massive irony is, my sources tell me those same ASA’s run weeping to their boss whenever I hold them accountable for their bad behavior here.

Worse yet, because most Kane County defense attorneys are chickenshit, after Mosser came out with all indictment guns blazing, Tom couldn’t find a lawyer to take his case. Perhaps with one exception, they all begged off because they feared upsetting the state’s attorney’s office would hurt their political and plea deal possibilities going forward.

So, imagine you’re facing the full weight of the state and you can’t even come up with a reasonable lawyer. That’s the very definition of futility.

But the KCSAO weren’t the only suicide aiding and abetting culprits here. Shaw Media’s Kane County Chronicle played a major role in Tom’s deepening depression by needlessly printing his mugshots – even on the reports of his untimely death.

It’s technically legal, but the practice is nothing more than a sleazy attempt to get a few more Net hits when those reporters, editors, and publishers know damn well it’s a conviction in the press. Talk about evidence being more prejudicial than probative. I’ve said it before, if there is a Christian Hell, then there’s a special place there for reporter Brenda Schory and her Shaw Media publisher lackeys.

But the most tragic irony is this. Sources told me the KCSAO had already determined that, even if convicted, Tom wouldn’t have spent a day in jail. He would’ve been a felon, lost his law license, and he would’ve been ordered to pay restitution. But in the grand scheme of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that befall the majority of this planet’s unfortunate inhabitants, those were conditions he could’ve survived. A comeback certainly wasn’t out of the question, either.

What Ms. Mosser and her office SHOULD HAVE done is approached this case just like the Feds would have. That would’ve gone something like this, “Tom, we have you dead to rights, but considering your public service, charitable efforts, and your spotless record, you’re not going to jail. Within the bounds of jurisprudence reason, we’re willing to hammer out a deal that would work for everyone involved.”

Put more simply, if Mosser and her prosecutors had any semblance of a heart, Tom would still be alive today, but he was too big of a public relations fish for them to do the right thing. And now he’s dead in great part because of a mistake that can’t be undone. So, there’s a family without a brother, a father, a grandfather, and a fiancé. Like so many others, I’m suddenly short a friend, too, and good friends are hard to come by in this difficult existence.

It’s somewhat reassuring to have recently learned that, in the words of another source, the KCSAO higher-ups are “Horrified by Tom’s suicide.” But if you think that’s enough to get them to behave any differently next time, then I have a bridge over the Fox River I’d be willing to part with cheap.

Actions always have predictable consequences, and we’re all responsible for our own choices, but other peoples’ choices will inevitably affect ours. So, to Shaw Media, those cowardly attorneys, and particularly the Kane County State’s Attorney’s office, all I can say is, I hope you’re proud of yourselves.


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