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Judge pondering SAFE decision

A judge is considering whether to dismiss La Salle County State's Attorney Karen Donnelly's second try at retrieving SAFE funds.

Donnelly went to court last year to recover $573,451 in forfeiture funds given to Spring Valley, Ottawa and La Salle. The money was seized by the now-defunct La Salle County State's Attorney's Felony Enforcement unit, which former state's attorney Brian Towne set up in 2011 to interdict drugs and drug money on the local stretch of Interstate 80.

In December, Circuit Judge Robert Marsaglia dismissed the case, but allowed Donnelly to re-file, which she did. Marsaglia is based in Morris, but is presiding over the matter, to avoid any potential conflict with local judges.

Donnelly is arguing Towne had no right to transfer the money to Spring Valley and so Spring Valley had no right to keep it.

Spring Valley and the other cities are contending the money was voluntarily given to Spring Valley over the course of several years, and it is now too late for La Salle County to reclaim it. Further, regardless whether Donnelly likes it, she is bound by her predecessor's actions.

At a court hearing Monday in Morris, Donnelly said she hopes to learn more about the Towne-Spring Valley arrangement, if the case is allowed to progress. As far as why La Salle County, in the form of the county board, did not try to recover the money years ago, Donnelly said she doesn't know what Towne told the board about SAFE, because she has asked the board, but received "different" answers.

Donnelly also questioned why neither Spring Valley, nor Ottawa nor La Salle questioned the arrangement.

At one point, Donnelly pointed out William Kurnik, Spring Valley's attorney, told the judge, "We spent their (La Salle County's) money," which Donnelly said cemented her case for her.

Overall, Kurnik said Donnelly was "rehashing" the arguments rejected by Marsaglia in December.

For Marsaglia's part, he again noted it was strange the La Salle County state's attorney (Towne) passed funds on to Spring Valley, a city in Bureau County. At Monday's hearing Marsaglia used the word "intriguing" and in December the word "odd" to describe this arrangement.

Marsaglia did not decide the case Monday, but said he will rule in a few weeks.

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