Motions in Rudd case denied; trial date set

Gregory Harutunian for Chronicle Media

Former Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas rudd sits on a bench outisde the courtroom awaiting his Aug. 31 hearing. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

The perjury case against former Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd was set for an Oct. 23 jury trial, after three motions were denied, during an Aug. 31 status hearing.

Lake County Circuit Court Judge Victoria Rossetti rendered her decision through a prepared statement, after her review of the Aug. 9 filings: a motion for bill of particulars, a motion to reconsider dismissal of charges and bar prosecution with accompanying precedent support, and a motion to remove Brian Towne as special prosecutor.

“We were naturally disappointed, and the judge had her decision prepared,” said defense attorney Burt Odelson. “We should have the law and justice on our side. In proceeding, regardless of the outcome, this will have a devastating and chilling effect on the electoral process. Candidates could be hesitant to file, if they know they can be indicted for an honest mistake. Similarly, voter registrations and voter participation can be impacted.

“Voter turnout is low now … why would a candidate put their name on the ballot and risk being indicted over your candidacy? This is absurd,” he said. “If this happens, it will have a chilling effect on future candidates for office.”

Odelson’s appearance at the hearing was a surprise. He had joined the Rudd defense team as a specialist in constitutional and election law, working with lead attorney, Jed Stone, of Stone and Associates, Inc. in Waukegan.

Odelson, of Evergreen Park-based Odelson & Sterk Ltd., had represented the opposition against Rudd’s petitions in 2016, from the county’s Electoral Board of Review hearing through the circuit and appellate court process, and the Illinois Supreme Court denial to hear the case. Ross Seclor, who represented Rudd through the same hearings, is now a member of Odelson’s firm.

“My perspective hasn’t changed … we were hired to protect the validity of the electoral process and the constitution, so we can vote,” Odelson said. “As officers of the court, and attorneys, we are charged to uphold the constitution. His petitions were wrong, and it should have ended there. He recanted, admitted his mistake, and this is … beyond.”

Rudd was indicted by the Lake County Grand Jury Feb. 15 on five counts of perjury stemming from five pages of nominating petitions for the coroner post in the April 2016 primary election, where he signed as the petition circulator in error. Rudd was slated for the electoral board hearing, was informed of the error, and withdrew his candidacy. He subsequently filed as an Independent, with more than 14,300 signatures, which were denied, then mounted a write-in campaign garnering more than 8,500 votes.

Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim shepherded the indictments, and then requested a special prosecutor try the case to avoid the appearance of a potential conflict of interest.

Former La Salle County State’s Attorney Brian Towne was selected by the Special Prosecution Unit of the State’s Attorney’s Appellate Prosecutor Agency.

The Aug. 31 hearing was delayed by nearly two hours. Odelson argued that the initial petition filing questioned 800 individual signatures, enough to have Rudd removed from the ballot, and not remain a candidate, which should have ended the proceedings in 2015. Stone, then attempted to argue the motion for a specific bill of particulars, and confining the prosecution to those items. Both actions were denied.

“The good news is we have a jury of 12 people that will decide this case, Oct. 23,” said Odelson. “There is a management hearing Oct. 17, where motions will be filed … but just the fact that this is proceeding will hurt the electoral process.”

The case has been speculated as politically motivated, due to Rudd’s stance in changing the manner and cause of death in several high-profile cases, relying on forensic and scientific evidence: Darrin Hanna, who died while in the custody of the North Chicago Police Department, the death of Benjamin Kingan whose caregiver Mellissa Calusinski was charged with first-degree murder … and the death investigation of police lieutenant, Joseph Gliniewicz.

The Hanna case resulted in a wrongful death lawsuit and settlement, the Calusinski case is awaiting adjudication in the Second District Appellate Court in Elgin alleging prosecutorial misconduct and uncovered scientific evidence by Rudd. The Gliniewicz case has fostered several civil lawsuits, alleging violations of constitutional rights by law enforcement agencies and questions of actual amounts contained in bank records.

Rudd referred comment to his defense attorneys. Towne was unavailable for comment.

–Motions in Rudd case denied; trial date set–