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Former La Salle County state’s attorney Brian Towne sues for malicious prosecution

State's Attorney Karen Donnelly hits back, calling his lawsuit an election-year tactic

Former La Salle County State’s Attorney Brian Towne said he’s the victim of a political agenda and wants damages from La Salle County. State’s Attorney Karen Donnelly said his lawsuit is a cheap trick to sway her re-election campaign.

Towne, who served as La Salle County state’s attorney for 10 years, is suing his successor Donnelly and several others for malicious prosecution. In a federal lawsuit filed Monday in Chicago, Towne said Donnelly, not content to beat him at the polls in 2016, launched a “personal and political” investigation that resulted in 17 felony counts, all dismissed last summer.

“[The] defendants’ conduct is something one would expect in a totalitarian government where political opponents are routinely persecuted and executed; it is not expected here,” wrote Towne’s lawyer, Chicago attorney Shawn Barnett. “Prosecutors are under an ethical obligation to use their authority to seek justice and not to settle personal or political scores. It is apparent that the defendants violated that sacred oath.”

Barnett alleged in a five-count complaint Ottawa police Capt. David Gualandri and three Donnelly assistants – George Mueller, Matt Kidder and ex-assistant Brian Vescogni – were “enlisted into [Donnelly’s] scheme” and “far from dissuading Donnelly from pursuing this political vendetta,” they assisted Donnelly “in obtaining criminal indictments against [Towne] that were not supported by facts or the law.”

Hours after the filing of Towne’s federal lawsuit, Donnelly issued a statement on Facebook denouncing Towne and dismissing his lawsuit as an election-year tactic.

“I wish I could say I’m surprised by Brian Towne’s lawsuit, but he has proven time and time again there is no low that he won’t stoop to,” Donnelly wrote. “This lawsuit is nothing more than a desperate attempt to sway the upcoming election by a desperate man. His tenure was marked with lies and corruption that left a stain on this office. Towne is undoubtedly trying to help his protégé and former right-hand man, Todd Martin, with this frivolous lawsuit.

Donnelly’s statement appears in full on the Shaw Media websites serving La Salle County.

Vescogni declined comment at this stage of the case. An attorney for the city of Ottawa did not respond to requests for comment by the close of business Monday.

Court dates are pending in Chicago, but Towne’s case has been assigned to a judge who happens to be a former prosecutor. Sharon Johnson Coleman had served as an assistant Cook County state’s attorney (1984-89) and then assistant U.S. attorney (1989-1993). She later became a judge and, coincidentally, marked 10 years on the federal bench Monday.

Though Donnelly faces a re-election challenge (against Democratic nominee Martin) on Nov. 3, Barnett said the timing was dictated by the statute of limitations.

“Illinois law requires all state claims against public employees to be filed within one year,” Barnett said. “So we had one year from the date Brian was acquitted to bring state law claims.”

Actually, Towne was not acquitted following a bench or jury trial. A procedural problem arose while the case was pending and a judge ruled Towne’s speedy-trial rights were violated. That happened Aug. 2, 2019, meaning Towne had until Aug. 2, 2020, to file suit.

La Salle County State’s Attorney Karen Donnelly issued a statement on her Facebook page responding to the Towne lawsuit and its contents. Here is the statement (in full):

“I wish I could say I’m surprised by Brian Towne’s lawsuit, but he has proven time and time again there is no low that he won’t stoop to. This lawsuit is nothing more than a desperate attempt to sway the upcoming election by a desperate man. His tenure was marked with lies and corruption that left a stain on this office. Towne is undoubtedly trying to help his protégé and former right-hand man, Todd Martin, with this frivolous lawsuit.

“I am extremely proud of the work we have done to restore integrity to the La Salle County State’s Attorney’s Office.

“Dirty tricks are no surprise when it comes to Brian Towne, and that’s exactly what this is – a frivolous attempt to aim negative headlines at me in the final months of an election year and help his good friend and cohort, my opponent this November.

“Brian Towne and my opponent hope the scurrilous lies in his complaint will be campaign fodder for voters who don’t understand that in a lawsuit you can allege anything, but the case will ultimately be decided on what you can prove and not on reckless, unproven allegations.

“Towne should consider himself lucky that after he was voted out of office he escaped criminal liability based upon a technicality without any examination of the actual evidence against him. This lawsuit will finally give us a chance to prove Towne criminally misused and converted public funds for his personal enrichment.

“This election season stunt of a lawsuit against me is full of flat out lies. I suspect Mr. Towne knows that.

“Towne’s misguided formation of the SAFE unit has already cost the taxpayers close to a half million dollars in legal defense costs, with no end in sight. This lawsuit just further proves he and my opponent do not care about the welfare of La Salle County.”

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