The Illinois Supreme Court has ordered a judge from McHenry County to preside over the Cook County case of former Mayor Richard M. Daley's nephew, Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko.
Prosecutors called for a judge outside the county after Judge Arthur Hill, a former prosecutor and high-level supervisor under Daley in the state's attorney's office, stepped aside last week.
Vanecko faces involuntary manslaughter charges for the 2004 death of David Koschman. He has pleaded not-guilty.
"The appearance of justice is as important as its reality," Judge Michael Toomin said, quoting Justice Antonin Scalia.
"The overriding perception of the public does truly measure propriety and impropriety," Toomin said. "That's why he recommended someone from outside Cook County try this case.
Judge Arthur Hill went on record last week disclosing his numerous connections with the former mayor. Daley promoted Hill several times, he said, and appointed him to the Chicago Transit Authority board. Hill also disclosed that while he was an attorney in private practice, he worked on municipal bond transactions for the city.
Though Hill said he believed he could be fair and objective in the case, attorneys requested a different judge.
"We understand," Vanecko attorney Tom Breen said, "but with all the arrows that have been thrown at the defense, at no fault of its own, we feel the the Cook County bench could handle this case on its own."
Kent College of Law professor Richard Kling said a judge from a different venue should have been a first choice, not a second one.
"The issue is never the fairness of Cook County judges," he said. "The issue is the perception on the part of the public."
Koschman, a 21-year-old man from Mt. Prospect, was out on Division Street in the wee hours of the morning when the group he was in ran into Vanecko's group. A lone punch was thrown. Koschman died 11 days later from head injuries after not recovering consciousness.
Chicago police never interviewed Vanecko, witnesses failed according to police to identify him in a lineup. Police concluded, though only one punch was thrown by Vanecko, that the cause of the altercation was self-defense.
Toomin this year called that analysis a "fiction" created by police and ordered a special prosecutor be put on the case. That prosecutor, Dan Webb, announced the charge against Vanecko two weeks ago.