April 23, 2012 01:50 PM
Koschman Case Gets Special Prosecutor
Judge appoints high-powered Chicago attorney to probe how David Koschman died – and whether police and prosecutors rigged the case to ensure the alleged assailant, a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, wouldn’t face criminal charges.
By Robert Herguth/BGA
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Former U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb – who helped oversee the Operation Greylord investigation into Cook County judicial corruption, prosecuted a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal and served as defense counsel for disgraced former Gov. George Ryan – has agreed to take a new, deeper look into the death of David Koschman.
On Monday, Cook County Judge Michael P. Toomin appointed Webb, chairman of the Chicago-based law firm Winston & Strawn LLP, to serve as "special prosecutor" in the politically charged case.
Webb, one of the country’s better-known litigators, is tasked with investigating how Koschman died, and whether Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors rigged their investigations to ensure criminal charges wouldn’t be brought.
Koschman was 21 and living in Mount Prospect when, in 2004, he was allegedly punched by a nephew of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley in a late-night encounter in the Rush/Division nightlife district.
Koschman fell back, hit his head and later died. Daley’s nephew, Richard "R.J." Vanecko, was apparently never interviewed by police. Nobody has been charged with a crime.
After the case was resurrected last year by the Chicago Sun-Times in a series of news articles, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez decided to take another look at the matter. But Koschman’s mother and other family members petitioned the court to appoint an outside prosecutor, saying Alvarez had a conflict of interest and couldn’t objectively handle the case, in part, because a prosecutor involved in the initial probe still works for her.
The Better Government Association submitted a "friend of the court" brief supporting the Koschman family’s call for an independent review.
Earlier this month Toomin decided there indeed were serious concerns with how the case was handled, and said he would appoint an outsider to take a fresh look. (Toomin found the office had a conflict of interest, although not Alvarez personally.)
On Monday, Toomin announced Webb would be that person, and swore him in at a courtroom in the Criminal Courts Building at 26th and California.
Webb’s legal fees will be covered by taxpayers. But Toomin’s three-page order indicated that "in no event shall such compensation exceed the statutory annual salary of the elected State’s Attorney for any twelve (12) month period."
Alvarez is paid around $200,000 a year.
Toomin also empowered Webb "to hire and direct a staff of deputy attorneys, investigators" and others, as needed. They also presumably will be paid.
Webb told reporters after Monday’s hearing: "I’m going to go where the facts take me."
He said he has no timeline for moving forward as of yet.
Aside from serving as a defense lawyer for the now-imprisoned George Ryan as the ex-governor unsuccessfully fought corruption charges, Webb has handled other high-profile cases.
He was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in the 1980s when Greylord exposed the seedy underbelly of the Cook County court system, which was rife with bribes, favoritism, and political and mob influence.
He also acted as a special prosecutor in the Iran-Contra affair, leading to the conviction of retired Admiral John Poindexter.
In the Koschman case, Webb will have subpoena power and should have access to all documents held by police and prosecutors, Toomin said in court.
Locke Bowman, an attorney for the Koschman family, said he was "extremely gratified" by the appointment.
This article was reported and written by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations. He can be reached at (312) 821-9030, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.