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Daley’s statement on nephew’s homicide case to stay secret: court

Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (R) stands with Lt. Col. Phillip Chen, retired, as he waves to the audience as he is introduced

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley | Getty Images file photo

Will Chicagoans ever find out what then-Mayor Richard M. Daley knew about the Chicago Police investigation that enabled his nephew to escape criminal charges in a homicide case for a decade?

The Illinois Appellate Court’s answer: No.

A written statement that Daley gave to a grand jury regarding the investigation must remain under lock and key because grand-jury secrecy trumps the public’s right to know what Daley said, a new ruling from the court states.

The statement Daley crafted four years ago came as he and other Daley family members were being interviewed by lawyers working under attorney Dan K. Webb, the court-appointed special prosecutor who ended up putting Daley nephew Richard J. “RJ” Vanecko in jail for throwing a punch that caused David Koschman’s death in 2004.

In 2015, the Better Government Association sued, asking the courts to release Daley’s statement and other Vanecko case materials. Webb vociferously fought that effort. Taking Webb’s side, the Illinois Appellate Court rejected nearly all of the BGA lawsuit on Oct. 20. But the justices did say the BGA might be able to see Webb’s detailed bills — provided the bills don’t disclose any grand-jury material.

RELATED: Sun-Times website on David Koschman case

It’s unclear if the BGA will take the case to the Illinois Supreme Court, which has already been involved in the Vanecko matter. The state’s highest court had to appoint a judge from McHenry County to preside over the case because so many Cook County judges have political ties to the Daley family. Vanecko ended up pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Regardless, attorneys for Koschman’s mother say the public is entitled to know what Daley said about the police investigation that for years had shielded his nephew from criminal prosecution.

Dan K. Webb. | Sun-Times file photo

There’s precedent to release the grand jury material, says Nanci Koshman’s attorney, G. Flint Taylor. Eleven years ago, Cook County Chief Criminal Court Judge Paul Biebel released grand jury records — including detailed interview reports — gathered by special prosecutors investigating cases of black men tortured under Lt. Jon Burge so they would confess to crimes they didn’t commit. City Hall has paid more than $100 million to settle civil lawsuits filed by Taylor and others related to those cases.

 

“The public’s right to know should trump grand jury secrecy in cases . . . where high public officials are under scrutiny,” Taylor says. “Why doesn’t Webb want the public to know what kind of statement he took from Daley? There’s a right to know what he told Webb. And there’s a right to know how detailed and probing Webb and his team were in this important public case.”

David Koschman | Provided photo

Webb declined to comment. Daley didn’t respond to written questions, including whether he would release the statement he gave Webb.

In a 162-page report issued after Vanecko pleaded guilty in 2014, Webb said Daley claimed he never had “substantive” discussions with his staff about the case; that the former mayor “characterized his actions as ‘recusing’ himself from the matter,” and that there was no evidence that Daley or his family attempted to influence the police investigation that failed to bring charges against Vanecko.

Vanecko, then 29, slugged Koschman, 21, during a drunken encounter in the Rush Street nightlife district on April 24, 2004, ran away and was never arrested. Koschman died 11 days later, but his case remained unsolved until the Chicago Sun-Times began investigating, leading Cook County Judge Michael Toomin to appoint Webb as a special prosecutor. Webb convened a grand jury and secured a “protective order” from Toomin to prohibit the release of any grand jury material.

Besides prosecuting Vanecko, Webb also investigated police and prosecutors who’d failed to charge Vanecko. His report cited numerous problems with their handling of the case, including missing case files, but Webb never brought charges against anyone else.

The three appeals court judges — Mathias Delort, Joy Cunningham and Thomas Hoffman — maintained in their unanimous ruling that releasing Daley’s statement and other materials might undermine other grand juries, precluding witnesses from giving “candid, complete and trustworthy testimony” if they fear their names and statements might be disclosed.

Richard “R.J.” Vanecko | Sun-Times file photo

Grand jury material is often disclosed during criminal trials, but Vanecko’s guilty plea meant the public didn’t get to hear any of the grand-jury evidence.

Two of the appellate justices have connections to the Daleys.

Hoffman is a former Chicago cop who spent years as an attorney in City Hall’s Law Department under the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, Vanecko’s grandfather.

Cunningham was the general counsel for Northwestern Memorial Hospital when doctors there were trying to save Koschman’s life. While working for Northwestern, she donated $500 to former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s re-election campaign. When she was running for the appellate court, she received a $200 campaign donation from one of the hospital’s top doctors, Robert M. Vanecko, the father of Koschman’s assailant.