Viewpoint: Justice cites Jo Daviess prosecutor

Jo Daviess County State’s Attorney Glen Weber has drawn a sharply worded rebuke from a justice of the Second District Appellate Court at Elgin.

Justice Susan Hutchinson filed a dissenting opinion in the case of People of Illinois vs. William Libberton. The appeals court upheld the convictions of Libberton on charges of driving under the influence and filing a false report of vehicle theft.

Justice Hutchinson did not disagree with the charges, but with Weber’s courtroom conduct. “I believe that State’s Attorney Glen Weber’s rebuttal argument was so fraught with improper comments that it not only rose to the level of reversible error, it shattered the ceiling of courtroom decorum and professional conduct,” she wrote.

Hutchinson further stated: “We expect our state’s prosecutors to prosecute with earnestness and vigor. But as the United States Supreme Court has recognized: “While [the prosecutor] may strike hard blows, he [or she] is not at liberty to strike foul ones.”

These comments appeared in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin of Oct. 31. Weber has declined comment on the matter, citing a pending rehearing. “It would not be appropriate or ethical for me to respond to the media on a case that is pending,” Weber said.

Weber began his law career in 1987 when he became an assistant state’s attorney in the office of Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli. He was elected Jo Daviess County State’s Attorney in 2000.

In the Libberton case, Weber told the jury that Libberton could have done what “80 to 90 percent of defendants do in this country”… “they go into the courtroom and they plead guilty.”

Weber then repeatedly accused the defendant and his witnesses of lying, explained why they would lie, and why they continued to lie. He told the jury Libberton “wanted to escape responsibility for his crime.”

Justice Hutchinson said the timing of the remarks left Libberton no way to counteract them before the jury retired to deliberate.

She noted this case was not the first time the appeals court has found fault with Weber’s conduct. Hutchinson, who is a former McHenry County prosecutor, said there were three other cases in which Weber was cited.

The Justice said: “Apparently, our past admonitions to Glen Weber have gone callously and cavalierly disregarded as this case more than demonstrates. I am further troubled that the majority’s treatment of this issue does nothing to diminish the likelihood that such conduct will recur. Though I am unable to convince my colleagues, I feel compelled to make a public record of Glen Weber’s lack of professionalism and decorum.”

In addition to the three cases mentioned by the Justice, there was last year’s case in which Weber had two JoDaviess-County women, Judith Trost and Nancy Siergei, indicted on charges of obstructing justice for allegedly making comments in regard to a Stockton house fire in which a man died. The charges later were dropped. There also were several cases against Richard Bauer in which the charges were dropped or convictions reversed.

While working in Logli’s office, Weber was accused of leaking information about Associate Judge Steven Vecchio designed to damage Vecchio’s primary campaign for a circuit judge position. The judgeship was won by then-Associate Judge Michael Morrison.

Prosecutorial misconduct is more frequent than most people realize. The Center for Public Integrity studied criminal appeals from 1970 to the present in Illinois. The Center found there were 630 cases in which the defendant alleged error by the prosecutor or misconduct.

In 158 of those instances, judges ruled the prosecutor’s conduct was prejudicial to the defendant and reversed or remanded the conviction, sentence or indictment. In 27 cases, a dissenting judge or judges thought the prosecutor’s conduct prejudiced the defendant. Eleven of the defendants who alleged error or misconduct later proved their innocence.

In the cases where judges found prejudicial conduct, 125 cases involved courtroom conduct such as misuse of evidence or improper arguments. Thirteen of the cases involved withholding of evidence from the defense, eight dealt with discrimination in jury selection, three involved grand jury conduct, six involved the use of perjured testimony, two revolved around denial of a speedy trial, and one was about pre-trial tactics.

Over the past several years, there have been at least 13 cases in Winnebago County in which prosecutorial error was alleged, but none were as egregious as the conduct ascribed to the JoDaviess State’s Attorney.

Justice Hutchinson, in concluding her remarks, said of the Libberton case: “A reversal and remand for a new trial from the taint of Glen Weber is not only justified in this instance, it should be mandated. I urge judges to vigorously guard against such improper argument and unprofessional conduct.”

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