Judge refuses to gag Bachman attorney

Judge Ron Pirrello advises attorneys to police themselves

Rockford attorney Dan McGrail called a motion filed to enforce a professional conduct rule “one of the ironic motions I have seen.”

McGrail shared that observation during an April 7 hearing. The motion would have effectively silenced McGrail, who’s representing Frank and Kim Bachman in a civil action against Winnebago County.

The Bachmans’ 15-year-old son, Daniel, and 21-year-old son, Aaron, were killed, and their daughter Kori Lynn was left comatose as a result of their car being struck by a Winnebago County Sheriff’s squad car Jan. 14.

The Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s office filed a motion to enforce Rule 3.6 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. An affirmative ruling would have barred both sides from speaking to the media about the Jan. 14 collision of Kori Lynn’s 2005 Hyundai Accent and Winnebago County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Boomer’s 2005 Ford Crown Victoria at the intersection of U.S. Business 20 and Weldon Road.

But the County didn’t get its wish. Circuit Court Judge Ronald Pirrello denied the motion.

“I’m not going to determine that the rules of professional conduct have been violated,” Pirrello said.

Winnebago County Assistant State’s Attorney William Emmert tried making his case for keeping comments about the case to a minimum.

“The evidence needs to come out at trial,” Emmert said, stressing there had been quite a bit of pre-trial publicity.

McGrail said that buck stopped with the Sheriff’s Department. He said his comments were intended to defend Kori Lynn against speculation and accusations made by the Sheriff’s Department.

“It’s very clear that everything that we have said has been required to set the record straight,” McGrail said.

Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers said his department never disseminated any information.

“We haven’t relayed anything,” Meyers said.

He said the department only responded to inquiries about information that media outlets got elsewhere.

“We’ve been very frugal and very guarded as to what we’ve relayed,” Meyers said.

The Sheriff’’s Department, McGrail alleged, stonewalled the Bachman family, while defending and protecting Boomer. McGrail said Boomer wasn’t disciplined.

Meyers confirmed April 10 Boomer hasn’t been disciplined, since the investigation is still open. He said his department is still waiting on information of the Rockford Police Department.

McGrail also noted what impact the department’s decision of not to discipline Boomer has had on public opinion. “I talked to a lot of people who were misled by this,” McGrail said.

According to McGrail, the family waited a month for information about the accident, before subpoenaing the records.

He stressed they had no contact with the media during their wait. That’s in sharp contrast to the Sheriff’s Department, McGrail said. He said the department began speaking to the media almost immediately after the accident, alleging Kori Lynn ran a stop sign.

“This girl is in a coma and unable to defend herself,” McGrail told the court, referring to Kori Lynn.

Emmert, obviously, begged to differ.

“(He) did cross the line. I think it shows that (the case is) being tried in the press,” he said, referring to McGrail. But he acknowledged both the plaintiff and defendant have spoken to the press.

Enforcing the order would violate any American’s basic right, McGrail said.

“It’s prior restraint to the Bachmans’ right to free speech,” he said.

According to McGrail, defending Kori Lynn—outside the courtroom—wasn’t out of line.

“We didn’t come close to crossing the line,” he said.

Before ruling McGrail’s actions required no judicial remedy, Pirrello asked him how he planned to proceed.

“I certainly can’t promise not to comment on the case, when there’s no precedent. It violates the First Amendment of the Bachman family,” McGrail said.

He said the professional conduct rule only restricts him from discussing inadmissible evidence with the media. McGrail stressed he’d steered clear of that.

“I have not said one thing to the media that deals with inadmissible evidence,” he said.

Pirrello refused to enforce the state’s attorney’s motion after urging both parties to make more of an effort to police themselves.

Frank Bachman was pleased with the ruling.

“I believe the judge made the correct decision. We’re after a fair trial as well. I think the judge clearly showed that. I don’t believe that anyone has violated any order. You have a right to speak in America,” he said.

Kim Bachman concurred.

“I’m just glad that it went the way that it did. I just want the truth to be known. None of this was (Kori Lynn)’s fault,” she said.

Emmert said his office would honor the decision. He repeated, in an interview after the hearing, too much media contact prompted the motion’s filing.

He refused to comment on why his office seemed unprepared—requesting to retrieve case law during the hearing—and whether the state’s attorney’s office ever initially cautioned the Sheriff’s Department against speaking to the media during an investigation.

McGrail said, after the hearing, he didn’t fault Meyers or his department for talking to the media.

“The sheriff has a First Amendment right to speak his mind. But we have a right to speak our mind to set the record straight,” he said.

From the April 12-18, 2006, issue

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