Home / Articles / News / News / State won't pay to defend rogue prosecutor
Print this Article
Thursday, May 30, 2013 12:04 pm

State won't pay to defend rogue prosecutor

No reimbursement for state’s attorney who allegedly framed two for murder

A former state’s attorney who allegedly framed two men for murder won’t have his legal defense costs reimbursed by Illinois taxpayers, thanks to a unanimous decision handed down last week by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Stemming from a gruesome double murder that saw two men imprisoned for a combined 38 years, the case centered around whether elected officials are different from normal state employees when it comes to paying their on-duty legal bills. The state’s highest court held that the state doesn’t have to pay when the legal costs arise from misconduct, even if the defendant is an elected official.

The case pitted Michael McFatridge, former Edgar County state’s attorney, against Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

In 1987, McFatridge prosecuted Gordon “Randy” Steidl and Herb Whitlock of Paris, Ill., for the murders of Dyke and Karen Rhoades in 1986. Steidl was convicted of both murders and sentenced to death, which was later commuted to a life sentence. Whitlock was convicted of Karen Rhoades’ murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In 2004, Steidl’s conviction was overturned when new evidence cast doubt on his guilt, and in 2008, Whitlock’s conviction was also overturned. In 2005, Steidl filed lawsuits against McFatridge, Edgar County and several other governmental bodies and officials, claiming McFatridge and others manufactured evidence, manipulated witnesses and covered up evidence that could have helped him at trial. After Whitlock’s release from prison, he filed a similar lawsuit.

In March of this year, Steidl won a settlement of $3.5 million in his case against McFatridge and others. That was on top of another settlement of $2.5 million Steidl already won in a separate lawsuit against the Illinois State Police. Whitlock previously settled his lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.

McFatridge had requested that Madigan’s office represent him in the lawsuit, under a state law that provides for legal defense of state employees involved in cases arising from their work. Madigan declined to represent McFatridge, citing a provision in the state law that allows the attorney general to bow out if the employee practiced “intentional, willful or wanton misconduct.” While McFatridge fought the lawsuits by Steidl and Whitlock, his legal bills were paid by two insurance companies. One company sued to get out of paying and won, and the second company later stopped paying, too, leaving McFatridge to fund his own defense.

In 2010, McFatridge sued Madigan in Sangamon County Circuit Court, asking for a declaration that Madigan must pay. Judge Patrick Londrigan dismissed McFatridge’s lawsuit with little explanation, but the Fourth District Appellate Court, located in Springfield, overturned Londrigan’s decision.

In determining how to rule, the appellate court interpreted a section in the law dealing specifically with elected officials.  The appellate court felt that because McFatridge was an elected official whose election depends on partisan votes, Madigan – also a partisan elected official – didn’t have the discretion to decline McFatridge’s defense.

“It is reasonable to conclude the legislature sought to insulate partisan elected officials from potential withholding of representation or from arbitrary denial of payment for attorney fees when the opposite party is in control of those decisions,” the appellate court reasoned. “It is also reasonable to conclude the legislature would provide special protection to elected state’s attorneys whose decisions to prosecute individuals must be able to be made without the threat of financial bankruptcy should they be sued.”

The Illinois Supreme Court, in its decision issued last week, rejected the appellate court’s rationale.

“We find no  support in the statutory language  that  the  legislature  intended  to  shield  elected  officials  from the  decisions  of  the  Attorney  General  where  their  political  affiliations differ,” the Supreme Court said in an 11-page decision penned by Justice Anne M. Burke of Chicago.

The decision, in which all seven justices agreed, seems not only to affirm that the state won’t pay for the defense of misbehaving employees, but also that McFatridge himself acted wrongly. In supporting Madigan for refusing McFatridge’s defense on grounds of misconduct, the Supreme Court became the first court in Illinois to acknowledge McFatridge’s alleged misdeeds. Steidl’s and Whitlock’s respective lawsuits were settled before trial, meaning a court never got to decide once and for all whether McFatridge framed the two men.

Natalie Bauer, Madigan’s spokeswoman, said Madigan was pleased with the court’s ruling.

“This decision will ensure that taxpayer money is not used to benefit elected officials guilty of malicious misconduct in office,” Bauer said.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com
Log in to use your Facebook account with
IllinoisTimes

Login With Facebook Account



Recent Activity on IllinoisTimes

Calendar

  • Tue
    16
  • Wed
    17
  • Thu
    18
  • Fri
    19
  • Sat
    20
  • Sun
    21
  • Mon
    22