Outside judge could clear dirty air surrounding Vanecko case

  • Pin It
Not guilty plea

Mayor Richard M. Daley's nephew Richard Vanecko, center, leaves the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Monday with his lawyer Marc Martin, right, after his arraignment on the charge of involuntary manslaughter for the death of David Koschman in the Rush Street nightlife district in 2004. Vanecko pleaded not guilty. (Michael Tercha, Chicago Tribune / December 10, 2012)

Chicago is such a political town that it's only natural that public cynicism is growing over whether a Cook County judge should preside over the highly political manslaughter case against R.J. Vanecko.

Vanecko, 38, is the grandson of one Democratic political boss named Daley and the nephew of another named Daley. The Daley clan has ruled politics in Cook County and virtually all the major offices within for more than half a century.

Chicagoans are predictably cynical because they've lived here and know the place. But there is a way out:

Don't have a Cook County judge try the Vanecko case.

Find a judge from far away, far outside the metropolitan area, far removed from even the hint of the Chicago Way. Otherwise, no matter how it goes, there will be the pungent scent of politics and connections and clout.

Vanecko, the accused in a case extremely difficult to prove, doesn't deserve that. Neither do the people. And neither do the judges.

It's not any one judge's fault that Chicago is a steamy political system in which connections and tribes and clans and favors dominate public policy. It is the way of things here. But judges aren't victims — they're eager participants.

When lawyers stand before the Democratic organization for judicial slating, their first statement often has nothing to do with the law, but everything to do with fealty.

"I'm a good Democrat!" they say.

In other states, Republicans dominate and pick the judges. However, this is a Democratic state.

Boss Democrats may not have the absolute clout they once had over massive patronage armies subsidized by taxpayers. But they do have the judges, their last line of defense and control, and party bosses have the power to make or break them, from the state Supreme Court to Traffic Court.

The pols have installed some excellent judges, as well as some hacks who had little experience in a courtroom before putting on the black robe.

Make no mistake, the political system is also on trial. This isn't just a manslaughter case.

Special prosecutor Dan Webb is also investigating cops and prosecutors to determine whether clout played a role in Vanecko escaping charges for so long. If there is a superseding indictment, how can any Cook County judge be expected to oversee a case against former colleagues?

A judge couldn't. And shouldn't.

That's why I'm thinking we should find a judge from some strange, corruption-free universe, like the state of New Hampshire. That's far enough. They're stubbornly libertarian. And they have a superb state motto:

"Live Free or Die."

That's nicer than our unofficial state slogan, "Illinois: Will the Defendant Please Rise?"

The other day, Cook County Judge Arthur Hill, a respected judge and former prosecutor, was selected to preside in the case against Vanecko. The grandson and namesake of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley and nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley was finally indicted Dec. 3.

Vanecko stands accused of involuntary manslaughter in the death of David Koschman, 21. According to Webb, Vanecko stood 6 feet 3 inches tall, weighing 230 pounds, when he confronted Koschman, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 125 pounds, on Division Street early on the morning of April 25, 2004.

  • Pin It