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April 25, 2024

Coles County – “Court Proceeding Shrouded In Impropriety” Says Illinois Appellate Court

By Kirk Allen & John Kraft

On September 12, 2022

Coles Co. (ECWd) –

Let’s assume you were charged with a crime and the court appointed your defense attorney.  Your attorney then negotiates a plea agreement with the prosecuting Assistant State’s Attorney assigned to the case, in which you plead guilty and get sentenced to two years probation and 180 days in jail.

How would you react if you found out after the fact that your defense attorney was the mother of the prosecuting attorney?

From the Appellate Court – “Unbeknownst to the defendant at the time, Matthews was the mother of Magdalene “Maggie” Wilson, the assistant state’s attorney assigned to the case. That is, mother and daughter negotiated the terms of defendant’s plea agreement.”

Todd Reardon, a Charleston, Illinois-based defense attorney recognized the problem and took appropriate judicial steps to expose and correct the impropriety that has been going on in the Coles County Courthouse for some time.

Upon reading the Rule 23 Order from the Appellate Court, I described the above scenario presented to dozens of people and numerous attorneys. Each and every one of them recognized there was a conflict, worsened by a failure to disclose and provide the defendant the option to waive the conflict.

“…Brien J. O’Brien, a Coles County circuit judge, who acknowledged knowing about the mother-daughter relationship and who had inquired of the Coles County State’s Attorney, Jesse Danley, about the potential of a conflict of interest. According to Judge O’Brien, Denley advised he or someone in his office “had looked into the issue and that there was no conflict of interest.”

“Judge O’Brien’s affidavit also noted he had posed the question of a potential conflict of interest to Matthews, who advised “she did not anticipate having any problems working with (or against) her daughter and that she was not aware of there being a conflict of interest.”

Relying on these opinions, Judge O’Brien continued to preside over “numerous [criminal misdemeanor] cases” with the mother and daughter on opposing sides. He stated: “At no time did I believe that the mother-daughter relationship between ASA Wilson and Ms. Matthews had any impact upon the manner in which a case was resolved. I did not believe that any defendant represented by [the mother] and prosecuted by [the daughter] received treatment that was more favorable or less favorable than any other defendant similarly situated. In my judgment, all interactions between [daughter] and [mother] were professional and appropriate.” Judge O’Brien never advised any defendant of the familial relationship.”

In short, the local Judges and State’s Attorney determined there was no conflict.  Rather than looking at case law on the conflict issue, the judge relied on the opinion of the State’s Attorney and the defense attorney and the Rules of Professional Conduct.  Fortunately, the Appellate Court did its homework.

“That is, “a per se conflict arises when defense counsel has a connection to a person or entity that would benefit from an unfavorable verdict for the defendant.” Id. ¶ 39. The supreme court has determined the connection must be contemporaneous. Id. ¶ 65. If a per se conflict is found, the defendant is not required to show the conflict affected the attorney’s actual performance. Id. ¶ 39. However, a “per se conflict of interest requires automatic reversal of a criminal conviction unless the defendant waives the conflict.”

“Although the parties in the trial court proceedings, including several circuit court judges, relied on the Rules of Professional Conduct to ultimately determine there was no conflict of interest in this case, we need not resort to an examination of Rule 1.7 or the comments associated
therewith. It is sufficient to note that defendant’s appointed attorney was the mother of the prosecuting attorney and that no one disclosed this fact to defendant prior to the entry of his guilty plea. We can surmise no closer “contemporaneous association” between the defense and the
prosecution than one of mother and child. Unlike a relationship between a client and counsel or an employer and employee, the familial relationship presented here is, and will be, forever ongoing. This ongoing relationship unquestionably satisfies the supreme court’s requirement that the connection be contemporaneous.”

This same conflict of interest situation was brought to the attention of the Attorney General clear back in 2020 regarding another defendant by Attorney Mervin Wolfe in his complaint found at this link.

According to Wolfe in his communication with us in 2020, “Hundreds of defendants all railroaded within a matter of days. Its important to understand over hundred defendant’s were never provided with any discovery by Mr. Danley’s Office. Over a hundred of those Defendants never saw the allegations against them. All of them did not know that the person prosecuting them was the daughter of the person appointed to defendant them. Over 500 criminal cases were reviewed and there are clear and convincing patterns of misconduct and discrimination.”

Clearly, the courts called it right when they said the court proceeding was shrouded in impropriety.  Now that it is clear, will the Judicial system in Coles County see the forest for the trees?

A copy of the court’s order can be downloaded at this link or viewed below.

People v. Abbott 2022 IL App (4th) 210427-U (003)








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