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La Salle County auditor employees drop motion for special prosecutor, will head to trial

Auditor employees drop motion for special prosecutor; head to trial

Former La Salle County auditor employees dropped their motion to have the state’s attorney’s office removed from prosecuting their case.

Tori Artman, 44, and Pamela Wright, 54, appeared in Judge Cynthia Raccuglia’s courtroom Monday with their attorney, Todd Martin. They are charged with accepting overtime pay without working the time.

For Artman, a trial date was set for Monday, June 3, and for Wright, a trial date was scheduled for Monday, July 8.

On April 4, Martin said in court documents that State’s Attorney Karen Donnelly has a conflict of interest because of her responsibility to represent Artman and Wright, as well as from a dispute Donnelly had with their boss, La Salle County Auditor Jody Wilkinson, who also is charged, over the reimbursement of a book.

The state’s attorney’s office responded April 9 with its own arguments, saying Donnelly has no responsibility to represent Artman and Wright because they are not sworn county officials and stating Donnelly’s interactions with Wilkinson was irrelevant to the case against the auditor employees.

Then on Thursday, the La Salle County Board voted 14-10 to suspend Artman and Wright for 30 days without pay and without the county’s contribution to their benefits. The auditor employees had been previously barred from their office and duties, but they still were receiving pay and benefits.

“As screwed up as this case is,” Martin said after Monday’s hearing, “I want these guys (the state’s attorney’s office) prosecuting them.”

He didn’t elaborate more on the context of his statement.

In his April 4 motion, Martin argued the La Salle County State’s Attorney’s Office’s involvement in disciplinary matters for the auditor employees is an attempt to gain additional financial leverage or coercion against the defendants, because if they lost their income, they wouldn’t be able to pay for a private attorney.

The La Salle County State’s Attorney’s Office countered Donnelly and deputy state’s attorney George Mueller have provided the County Board with no advice, noting at the time of filing their response April 9 the auditor employees still were receiving pay and benefits.

County Board members who opposed the auditor employees’ suspension raised concerns about violating auditor employees’ union contract.

Martin said Monday he believed it was a violation, and that his clients would be taking action in the matter.

County Board Chairman Jim Olson, D-Seneca, attended the hearing Monday. Following the hearing, he said the County Board received no legal advice in moving forward with a suspension, echoing what County Board member Brian Dose, D-Ottawa, said during Thursday’s meeting.

The Salary and Labor Committee has a special meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, in Room 242 at the La Salle County Governmental Complex, 707 E. Etna Road, Ottawa.

The “auditor’s employees - employment” is listed as an agenda item for Wednesday’s meeting. The agenda says the committee is planning on going into closed session for compensation of specific employees/collective bargaining matters/personnel. An attorney will be present for litigation matters, according to the agenda. An outside attorney was approved at a previous Finance Committee meeting to give legal advice on the auditor employees matter.

Committee chairman resigns after Thursday suspension vote

Olson also confirmed Salary and Labor Committee Chairman Joseph Savitch, D-La Salle, resigned his position as chairman of that committee following Thursday’s meeting. Savitch didn’t comment Monday, but he said he would give a comment at a future time.

A successor for Savitch will be considered at the next Committee on Appointment and Legislation and Rules, typically conducted 1 p.m. on the first Monday of the month.

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