Nicolosi confirmed as top prosecutor

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118598852620673.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Nicolosi said his priority will be expediting the judicial system to alleviate the threat of jail overcrowding.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118598860020695.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘Phil Johnson (D-8), right, alleged Nicolosi was receiving the appointment because his camp had the most favors to call on.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118598863812840.jpg’, ‘Photo by Stuart R. Wahlin’, ‘George Anne Duckett (D-12) was one of only two Democrats to vote against Nicolosi’s appointment.‘);

The Winnebago County Board confirmed the appointment of Phil Nicolosi (R) July 26 to the office of State’s Attorney to complete Paul Logli’s (R) unexpired term. The appointment is effective Aug. 10, when Logli will be sworn-in as a 17th Judicial Circuit judge.

Although Nicolosi was met with an overwhelming approval of 23-3, the appointment was not without debate.

Pete MacKay (R-5) referenced a comment made July 24 by County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen (R), indicating the chairman had offered a job in the State’s Attorney’s office to Mark Karner. Karner, an assistant U.S. Attorney, had competed with Nicolosi for the State’s Attorney job.

“I can’t support this,” MacKay told Christiansen. “It’s got nothing to do with Mr. Nicolosi, but it has a whole lot to do with who’s really gonna be running the State’s Attorney’s office, Mr. Chairman, you or Mr. Nicolosi?”

Christiansen responded: “Mr. Nicolosi would if he’s confirmed, I’m sure, Mr. MacKay. Believe me, I’ve got plenty to do.”

Still pressing the issue, MacKay said, “It’s not the way it reads in the paper.”

Christiansen snapped, “Well, then, keep reading the paper,” before quickly turning the floor over to George Anne Duckett (D-12).

“I’m going along with Pete on this,” Duckett indicated. “I have nothing against Mr. Nicolosi, but I know that I’ve been working with Mr. [Chuck] Prorok for so long. It’s up to you who you want to appoint, but I just think…we need the experience in that office.”

Logli publicly recommended Prorok, who is Logli’s highest-ranking prosecutor, to replace him.

John Harmon (R-4) was quick to note Logli’s choice of successor is irrelevant.

“It wasn’t his call by law,” Harmon noted. “It was the chairman’s call.”

Responding to all the talk of a need for change in the State’s Attorney’s office—which never came up until the chairman and the board’s Republican caucus were selecting an appointee—Duckett noted, “I didn’t hear anyone complaining about what was going wrong in that office.”

“In no way did we infer, or did I infer, that any problems existed,” Christiansen responded later.

With Logli’s performance now the subject of debate, Paul Gorski (D-5) said he did not personally know any of the candidates, but that “I do know that Mr. Logli was elected and re-elected by the voters of Winnebago County…The voters of Winnebago County trusted his judgment, and Mr. Logli chose to have Mr. Prorok in his office and promote him…I believe that you would be going against the wishes of the voters of Winnebago County not to go inline with Mr. Logli’s thoughts on this, through the end of the term at least.”

Gorski suggested then letting the voters decide on their next State’s Attorney in November 2008.

Bob Kinnison (R-10) reported he’d support the appointment because it is simply Christiansen’s privilege to name Logli’s replacement.

Adding all four candidates were qualified, Kinnison said to Christiansen: “Even if I were in the other party, I would still honor your choice, being as it is your appointment. To do otherwise makes it political, in my opinion. I think that you’ve made your choice, and I agree with it.”

Doug Aurand (D-3), perhaps the most outspoken Democratic voice on the board, fell in-line with Republicans on the issue.

“This is not a time to be political,” Aurand agreed. “This is the time to honor the request of the Republican Party…If the shoe was on the other foot, we would want them to honor us.”

Aurand acknowledged having worked with Nicolosi as a Rockford Township trustee, adding, “He’s a very qualified nice guy, and if we want somebody else, the voters will make that choice come November.”

Reminding fellow Democrats they’re outnumbered on the board, Aurand urged support of Nicolosi’s appointment. The absences of L.C. Wilson (D-12) and Dorothy Redd (D-6) left only 10 Democrats to face the board’s 16 Republicans in approving the first new State’s Attorney in more than 20 years.

Duckett joked, “How many times have I seen Doug Aurand outnumbered, and it never stops him anyway?”

Democrats have high hopes for gaining seats in next year’s election. Aurand’s support of the appointment makes one wonder if Democrats may see Nicolosi as an easy candidate to beat in 2008.

So far, only Rockford City Attorney Joe Bruscato has publicly expressed interest in the Democratic nomination for State’s Attorney in 2008. Bruscato’s supervisor, Legal Director Patrick Hayes, Prorok and Federal Prosecutor Mark Karner, competed with Nicolosi for the Republican appointment.

Nicolosi feels ready to face any challenger in the February primary.

“I welcome the election next year, and let the voters decide,” Nicolosi told reporters after his confirmation. “For right now, I appreciate the confidence which Mr. Chairman has placed in me, as well as the board.”

Duckett indicated her main concern with the appointment is the threat of jail overcrowding combined with Nicolosi’s complete lack of experience in the State’s Attorney’s office.

Nicolosi, however, said he’s worked with many of the office’s prosecutors, has great respect for their work and looks forward to hearing their ideas.

Favoring Prorok’s experience and noting her frequent support of Christiansen, Duckett put her foot down in this instance.

“This one, I just can’t agree with,” Duckett said. “I don’t think it’s a matter of us, as County Board members, thinking or saying that it’s not political, because I do believe it is.” Duckett added, however: “I don’t think this is about politics. This is about what we need in this county, and we need good prosecutors, and we need people who can get it across to the rest of that staff. I’m afraid that there’s gonna be some problems in that office because of this appointment.”

Although, as a municipal attorney, Nicolosi has never prosecuted a felony case, Christiansen maintained, “Phil is an experienced prosecutor.” While Nicolosi has never prosecuted a felony case, he said he has represented defendants in felony cases in his private practice.

Jim Webster (R-2) described the July 23 interviews and subsequent lengthy caucus discussion leading up to the Republican consensus.

“I think that Mr. Nicolosi came out on top there simply because he was the right man for the job,” Webster stated. “It had nothing to do with anything else.” Webster said Nicolosi was the best-qualified candidate for alleviating the threat of overcrowding in the new Winnebago County Justice Center. “Eighty percent of them are awaiting trial. That tells you that changes need to be made, and I think that Mr. Nicolosi is the right man to make those changes.”

Although ultimately supporting the appointment, Phil Johnson (D-8) questioned the sudden need for changes.

“I’m kinda confused,” Johnson began. “I’ve served under three County Board chairmen, and I’ve known Paul Logli many years. I can’t remember, any of that time, that any of the chairmen, or any people on this board, or any of the Republicans spoke up and said, ‘Paul Logli’s doing a lousy job as State’s Attorney. We need to get rid of him. We need to make some changes.’

“It just seems a little strange to me that, two days after all these 20-plus years, we suddenly have a problem with it,” Johnson noted. “My belief is that that’s not the real reason of what’s going on here. This is basically a case of that’s the political spin—that’s the P.R. and stuff like that—to give some kind of justification as to why they’re doing this.”

Johnson argued the appointment was an example of “good ol’ boys” scratching each others’ backs.

“I believe he’s [Nicolosi] been appointed simply because more IOU’s for him and his family and friends were called in than anybody else had,” Johnson alleged. “That’s why he was chosen.”

Christiansen, whose campaign received $31,400 in contributions from companies operated by Nicolosi’s brother Paul, promptly revoked the floor from Johnson. Paul Nicolosi, president and CEO of The Buckley Companies, was seen seated with former Circuit Clerk Mar

c Gasparini (R) at the July 26 County Board meeting.

Although he’s practiced law for 22 years at Nicolosi & Associates—one of eight businesses in Buckley’s corporate family—the State’s Attorney appointee said he is not involved with The Buckley Companies.

Barring further debate, Aurand made a motion to call the question and vote on the matter once and for all.

In a roll-call vote, Duckett, Gorski and MacKay stood alone against Nicolosi’s appointment.

Following Nicolosi’s confirmation, Christiansen attempted to still the waters by thanking Logli for his many years of service. Most notably, Christiansen mentioned, was the successful passage of the 1-percentage point Public Safety Tax.

“I was caucus chairman 21 years ago when we selected him and, frankly, I’ve never regretted that move,” Christiansen asserted. “He brought enormous integrity to that office, and the community will be forever grateful for his leadership.”

Christiansen has indicated an audit of the State’s Attorney’s office will be conducted before Nicolosi takes over Aug. 10, but said the audit is no reflection on Logli.

“That’s just good business as far as I’m concerned,” Christiansen explained, saying it’s standard procedure for incoming department heads to begin with a clean slate.

Addressing the backlash from discussions regarding a need for change in the State’s Attorney’s office, Nicolosi said: “After 21 years, obviously change is a good thing. It may be difficult, but it’s not a bad thing. This is absolutely no reflection on either Mr. Logli or the members of his office…I’m not pointing fingers. I’m not making any blame on anyone.

“I’m there to try to effectuate change,” Nicolosi explained, “which I think is easier with a new individual.”

Nicolosi said he intends to encourage the integrity and work ethic already present in the office. A priority, Nicolosi reported, will be to develop ways to expedite the judicial process to prevent jail overcrowding.

The new jail is staffed to handle 800 prisoners, and the current inmate population is in excess of 700.

Nicolosi plans to do a lot of listening and observing when he first takes office. The new State’s Attorney will seek input from the judiciary and promised he’ll welcome recommendations from the board and staff members.

Nicolosi praised Logli and Prorok for their gracious offers to aid in the Aug. 10 transition. Prorok has indicated he’s undecided whether he’ll stay on with the State’s Attorney’s office.

Meantime, Nicolosi is assembling his lineup for the shift in leadership.

“I wanna be very careful about my transition team,” Nicolosi told The Rock River Times, “so I’m putting a lot of thought into it.” Nicolosi expects to name his five- to eight-person team within the week.

Real work on the transition, Nicolosi reported, will begin once Logli returns from vacation Aug. 3.

Other July 26 Winnebago County Board news—hero honored

Ian Fiduccia, son of board member Dave Fiduccia (R-4), was honored with a standing ovation July 26, during his two-week home stay before being redeployed to Iraq for another six or seven months.

July 8, while escorting a convoy in northern Baghdad, Fiduccia’s Humvee was destroyed in a suicide bombing when a fuel truck was exploded. One of Fiduccia’s Army comrades, Jason E. Dore, was killed. Fiduccia and two others in the Humvee were wounded.

Although Fiduccia suffered second-degree burns and hearing loss as a result of the suicide bombing, he was cleared for active duty within a week.

Clearly choked up, Dave Fiduccia said he regretted Ian could not be present when he was sworn in as a board member last fall, but motioned to the board room and told his son, “I want you to tell your friends over there, ‘this is what you’re protecting.’”

Resolution approved

A Resolution Awarding Proposals for Insurance Broker Services to Itasca-based Gallagher-Bassett Services, Inc., was unanimously passed.

4-H thanks board for continued funding

Michael Lang, a nine-year member of the Northern Stars 4-H Club, explained the importance of the county’s continued $20,000 annual support of the 4-H program, which is open to youths aging from 8 to 18 years old.

Lang explained 4-H is about learning a new skill and working with family and friends of all ages.

“Most of all, 4-H is about creating memories,” Lang said, remembering having woken to a pig chewing on his pillow while sleeping in the pig barn during the Winnebago County Fair.

Lang presented numerous awards he’d received over his years in 4-H, indicating he’d come a long way from the days of tinkering with his mother’s sewing machine. Now, Lang’s interest in machinery has him working with tractors and skidloaders.

“I remember as a younger 4-H’er, I looked up to the older members,” Lang recalled. “Now, I feel that I’m an older member, and the younger ones are starting to look up to me, too.”

Lang thanked the board for its financial contributions and invited everyone to the Winnebago County Fair, Aug. 14-19 at the fairgrounds in Pecatonica, to see firsthand what 4-H is all about.

from the Aug 1-7, 2007, issue

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