Monday, September 26, 2011

Targeting David Protess Six Years -- ARDC Complaint Latest Maneuver by the DuPage County Brotherhood

A complaint submitted last month to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois (ARDC) makes strong accusations, not only against a former attorney of convicted killer Alstory Simon, but others as well. Most notable is David Protess, former director of the Medill Innocence Project at Northwestern University. 

The ARDC complaint was filed exactly one week before the nationally-publicized ruling that Medill and Protess turn over their emails from the Anthony McKinney investigation to Cook County prosecutors involving another case.

This time, however, the drumbeat against Protess (and not so indirectly Medill) didn't bang from Cook County. Instead it came from from a small DuPage County band of brothers who have persistently targeted Protess for six years. 

The DuPage Connections

DuPage County defense attorneys Terry Ekl and James Sotos currently represent Simon, whose confession of a 1982 double homicide in Chicago exonerated Anthony Porter in 1999. Simon is serving a 37-year sentence at the Danville Correctional Center. 

Just 50 hours away from lethal injection, Porter caught the attention of then-Gov. George Ryan who declared a moratorium on executions the following year. The former death row inmate unwittingly had become the catalyst for the moratorium and the movement to abolish the death penalty. Porter and those who worked to exonerate him, including the Medill Innocence Project, didn't sit well with certain groups -- particularly Illinois state's attorneys.

Ekl and Sotos, described by Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn as "two lawyers cast in unlikely role as crusaders", developed a sudden interest in the plight of Simon shortly after Randy Steidl filed a wrongful conviction lawsuit in 2005. Steidl and Herb Whitlock had been convicted for the 1986 murders of Dyke and Karen Rhoads in Paris, Ill. A similar lawsuit was filed by Whitlock following his release in 2008; the same court is hearing both cases.

Ekl's firm represents former Edgar County State's Attorney Michael McFatridge while Sotos' firm represents the city of Paris. With the potential to be among the largest wrongful conviction verdicts in Illinois history, the Steidl-Whitlock cases have state, county and local entities worried. The trial is scheduled for January.  

In 2005, the attorneys hired the private investigation firm of Delorto Mazzola & Assoc., Ltd., also of DuPage County, to investigate Porter's exoneration. The names of the private investigators are found in Simon's post-conviction relief petition filed by Ekl and Sotos the following year. 

Proprietors of Reverse Spin, also of DuPage County, were contracted by a wealthy Paris businessman for damage control in the Steidl-Whitlock lawsuit. Reverse Spin distinguish themselves as "game changers". According to their website, they specialize in grassroots movements, public policy and legislative affairs. The firm has been closely associated with former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan, Illinois Second District Appellate Court Justice Joe Birkett and the Illinois Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor. 

The "game changers" coordinated tactics with Ekl and Sotos in the Steidl-Whitlock lawsuits. Correspondence contained in an exhibit filed by the plaintiffs' attorneys shows a smear campaign to discredit Medill and Protess.

The disparagement focused on the 1999 exoneration of Porter. Porter had been convicted of the 1982 murders of teenagers Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard in Chicago. Protess assigned Medill students to investigate the old case. Eventually Simon confessed to the crime. 

The "game changers" told a much different version to the media, including CBS 48 Hours, which had been planning to feature the students' role in the releases of Steidl and Whitlock. If they could persuade the media that the students' work was in question on the Porter case, perhaps it would spill over onto their credibility on the Steidl-Whitlock case. CBS aired the episodes anyway.

ARDC Complaint Filed Aug. 31, 2011

Signatories of the ARDC complaint include James Delorto and John Mazzola who identified themselves in the complaint as "retired Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms (ATF) agents". Not disclosed, at least in the public version of the complaint, is that the two men have been partners of a private investigation firm in DuPage County for 16 years.

William Crawford, also of DuPage County, is the ARDC complaint's first signatory and a vocal advocate for Simon. Crawford has been described as a "retired investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune". His name is also found on the website for a company called 360 Degrees performing public relations and crisis communications.

In the May 5th Chicago Reader article, "Who's Saying the Innocence Project Sprung a Killer, and Why?", Michael Miner reported that Crawford said he had heard about Simon's case and asked Sotos if he could look through his files. Crawford "wound up spending three months compiling a hundred-page narrative he calls 'Chimera'". The retired journalist reportedly sent "Chimera" to numerous authorities and journalists.

Crawford's connection with Sotos did not end with an inspection of files. Miner wrote, "Crawford was able to get Sotos and himself a meeting this week with Bruce Dold, the head of the Tribune's editorial board. ('I can't say if we'll do anything with his research,' says Dold.) Other than that—and, I suppose, the column you're reading now—he appears to have accomplished nothing and possibly done Simon harm." Miner added that Sotos told him that Crawford did an "extraordinary job" of writing the case into a narrative form. 

"Chimera" still has received practically no media coverage, according to an on-line search. A news release accompanying a copy of the ARDC complaint generated interest in only a handful of outlets.

Lamenting in the lack of attention the story was receiving was a proprietor of Reverse Spin. The day after the ARDC complaint was filed, he Tweeted: Chuck Goudie one of few Chicago journalists with integrity to tackle this obvious blockbuster story. And, Chuck Goudie one of few Chicago journalists willing to tackle the dubious Anthony Porter exoneration.

No decision has been announced on whether or not the ARDC will be moving forward on the complaint. 

More Background

Prominent Illinois press attorney Donald Craven worked for ILSAAP during the same time as the subpoena battle with Medill and Protess. Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez was serving on the ILSAAP Board of Governors.

Reverse Spin had been the contracted media consultants/spokespersons for the Illinois Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor (ILSAAP) from 2007 to 2009. Reverse Spin has also worked with Ekl recently on the defense of McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi.

Former ILSAAP Board of Governors Vice Chairman Joe Birkett had steered the ILSAAP contracts to his political consultants, Reverse Spin. Among the many one-on-one projects for Birkett in activity reports submitted to ILSAAP accompanying invoices, Reverse Spin was assisting Birkett in February 2008 to lift the Illinois moratorium on executions and introduce legislation to expand the death penalty.

ILSAAP Vice Chairman Birkett also had one of his assistant state's attorneys in DuPage County prepare an amicus brief supporting public payment of legal fees for former Edgar County State's Attorney Michael McFatridge in the Steidl-Whitlock lawsuit. Ekl represents McFatridge and is Birkett's former campaign chairman.

ILSAAP maintains that Steidl and Whitlock are still suspects in the Rhoads murders, a position which may be serving as legal protection for a defendant or defendants in the lawsuit. Craven reportedly has represented an ILSAAP special prosecutor in the Steidl-Whitlock lawsuit.
  
(Links to articles and documents are embedded within CountyLeaks' blog pieces. Simply click the red type.) 

CountyLeaks Asks:

Is the smearing of Medill and Protess part of a multi-faceted, bigger goal? Who are the architects? Should we start by looking westward to DuPage County instead of just Cook County?

Is Crawford working for anyone?

Why was this ARDC complaint filed exactly one week before Judge Diane Cannon's decision on the emails of Medill and Protess? Was the piling on pure happenstance? 

Why did Delorto and Mazzola identify themselves on the ARDC complaint as retired ATF agents instead of what their actual roles were in the investigation for Simon's petition?

Why didn't Ekl and Sotos file the ARDC complaint themselves? 

Why was Reverse Spin closely monitoring the media coverage of Crawford's ARDC complaint immediately after it was filed? Do Crawford and Curry know each other?

Is it ethical and proper for prosecutors to work against Medill and Protess in tandem with outside attorneys and vendors who are paid by tax dollars? If not, who will stop them?

Geez...what is it with DuPage County? 

Following is a corporation file detail report with the Illinois Secretary of State for Delorto Mazzola & Assoc. Ltd. To enlarge, click or double-click the image: