Judge in Daley nephew manslaughter case recuses self

December 17, 2012 (CHICAGO)

The nephew of former mayor Richard M. Daley is charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with a fight that ended in a man's death back in 2004.

The criminal case against him alleges that Richard Vanecko threw a punch that took a life 8 1/2 years ago. The public case is that Vanecko, until now, skated free of charges because of who he is: nephew of the former mayor.

So which judge is best equipped to hear a case swirling amidst politically explosive allegations of favoritism? It will not be Judge Arthur Hill, who was randomly picked last week by computer.

Hill worked with and for ex-mayor Daley, and Monday morning he said, "I can be fair and impartial, but in an abundance of caution I am recusing myself from the case."

Special prosecutor Dan Webb's team then asked that a judge from outside Cook County be appointed to take the case, and Judge Michael Toomin agreed, saying that this case is about perception, and that "the appearance of justice is as important as its reality."

Vanecko's attorneys say they are outraged.

"I have absolutely no reason to doubt the integrity of the Cook County judiciary," said Vanecko attorney Marc Martin. "It's disheartening these perceptions exist."

"Cook County judges can be fair, but the public isn't going to be comfortable with the fact that there is someone connected to Cook County," said Kent College of Law Prof. Richard Kling.

Chief Judge Timothy Evans of the Cook County Circuit Court has agreed to seek a judge from outside the county to try the Vanecko case. The Illinois Supreme Court has the final say on who will try the case.

Vanecko is accused of throwing a punch that ultimately took the life of 21-year-old David Koschman in 2004.

Vanecko's attorneys launched something of an opening salvo Monday.

"The state's witnesses are liars," said Martin. "That will be shown, and when the facts are known, it'll be a not guilty verdict, so they can bring in a judge from Kalamazoo for all I care."

Bringing in a judge from another county is rare but not unprecedented. Earlier this month, the misdemeanor battery case against Cook County Judge Cynthia Brim was moved to DuPage.

Thirteen years ago, the "Baby T" child custody case involving powerful Alderman Ed Burke and his wife Anne, now an Illinois Supreme Court justice, was assigned to a Kane County judge.

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