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Judge tosses SAFE suit

A judge has dismissed a suit brought by La Salle County State's Attorney Karen Donnelly, which sought return of SAFE money passed on to Spring Valley, Ottawa and La Salle.

Donnelly filed suit last summer against Spring Valley, Ottawa and La Salle to recover $573,451, which Donnelly claimed the cities improperly received from the now defunct La Salle County State's Attorney's Felony Enforcement unit. The $573,451 was first given Spring Valley, which then allegedly gave $100,000 a piece to Ottawa and La Salle.

Donnelly's predecessor as state's attorney, Brian Towne, formed SAFE in 2011 to interdict drugs, mostly marijuana, and grab drug money from drivers on the local stretch of Interstate 80. The unit stopped operating after an appellate court ruled in 2015 that SAFE was not lawful. The Illinois Supreme Court later backed up the appellate decision.

Donnelly has said she wanted the $573,451, because the money will likely have to be returned to those from whom it was seized.

Spring Valley, Ottawa and La Salle asked for the suit to be thrown out, with a hearing on the matter held Dec. 1 before Circuit Judge Robert Marsaglia in Morris. Marsaglia handled the case, so as to head off any potential conflict of interest involving La Salle County judges.

Marsaglia issued his decision Friday, noting Donnelly contended the money was "properly seized but should not have been shared with the other municipalities."

Marsaglia then went on to say the suit had no grounds, because the sharing agreement between Towne and Spring Valley was voluntary, with both sides believing at the time the arrangement was "legal and proper." Further, the SAFE money was appropriately spent by the cities and it is too late for Donnelly to call for the money's return.

"Spring Valley held up their end of this bargain. The current State's Attorney does not like the bargain, but that in no way indicates that Spring Valley obtained the funds in any way other than the voluntary acquiescence of the then State's Attorney of LaSalle County (Towne)," Marsaglia observed.

Marsaglia gave Donnelly 28 days to refile the suit with different arguments. The Times could not reach Donnelly for comment.

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