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Public a loser in latest Koschman case ruling

Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko outside court January 2013. | Sun-Times Library

Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko outside court in January 2013. | Sun-Times Library

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Updated: December 15, 2013 11:45AM

Wednesday was a setback for the rights and interests of the public as Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael P. Toomin denied a request to unseal a report on the controversial investigation into the 2004 death of David Koschman.

The county’s citizens have the ultimate say in how our criminal justice system operates, and those citizens need prompt access to the 162-page report, whose primary author is special prosecutor Dan Webb. Webb was charged in part with determining whether politics played a role in how the investigation was handled after a series of stories in the Sun-Times questioned the handling of the case by the Chicago Police Department and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

Earlier, Toomin sealed the report at Webb’s request partly because Webb worried releasing it could jeopardize the possibility of a fair trial for Richard J. Vanecko, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter in Koschman’s death. Vanecko is a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

On Wednesday, Toomin rejected a motion brought by the Chicago Sun-Times and WMAQ-Ch. 5 to unseal the report because, Toomin said, it contains grand jury testimony, which usually is kept secret. Because there’s insufficient time for an appeal — Vanecko’s trial is scheduled for February — Toomin’s decision is essentially final. The only good news is that the report will be released after the trial. He must make sure that happens the very minute the final gavel closes the proceedings.

The report, which contains a review of more than 22,000 documents and interviews with 146 witnesses gathered over 17 months, focuses on the questionable conduct of police and prosecutors nine years ago. How the investigation was conducted is not relevant to Vanecko’s guilt or innocence, but it’s central to the public’s understanding of how police and prosecutors are acting in the public’s name. Every minute the release of the report is delayed is another minute the public is kept in the dark.

If reform of the system is necessary, it’s important the cleanup process begin as soon as possible. We’re disappointed it won’t begin today, but we trust the public will learn everything it needs to know the moment the trial is brought to a conclusion.

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