Updated 12/10/12 – 6:09 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — The judge presiding over the involuntary manslaughter case against a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley revealed he once worked for Daley in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, but he’s leaving it up to prosecutors and defense attorneys to decide if he’ll stay on the case.
CBS 2’s Chris Martinez reports Daley’s nephew, Richard “R.J.” Vanecko, made his first court appearance Monday morning on a count of involuntary manslaughter in the 2004 death of David Koschman. He pleaded not guilty and was released on $100,000 bail.
Last week, a special grand jury convened by special prosecutor Dan Webb indicted Vanecko for involuntary manslaughter, after finding that he “through the use of physical force, and without lawful justification, recklessly performed acts which were likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another, and such acts caused the death of David Koschman.”
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Vanecko, who lives in Costa Mesa, Calif., turned himself into authorities over the weekend, and posed for a mug shot.
His case was randomly assigned to Judge Arthur F. Hill, who told prosecutors and defense attorneys that he worked for Daley when the former mayor ran the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office in the 1980s. Hill said he received promotions under Daley, and when Daley became mayor, he received an appointment to the CTA Board.
Hill was also the top aide to former Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine at the time of Koschman’s death, when authorities declined to seek charges against Vanecko.
However, Hill insisted he could remain fair and impartial in the case, and said he was not recusing himself. He said, if either Vanecko’s attorneys, or Webb’s team of prosecutors ask him to step aside, he will do so. Hill scheduled a hearing for next week, and ordered Vanecko to appear for all future court dates.
“The issue in this case isn’t whether or not he can be on guilt or innocence, the issue is whether or not he can be fair from a public interest perspective,” CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller said. “What does the public think when you have a judge who’s a former assistant state’s attorney sitting on this case?”
Vanecko’s attorneys would not say if they will ask Hill to step aside.
Defense attorney Tom Breen would only say of Hill: “He’s a wonderful man, with a lot of experience.”
Prosecutors also declined comment after Monday’s hearing.
Early on the morning of April 25, 2004, the 21-year-old Koschman reportedly had a confrontation with Vanecko outside a bar in the Rush and Division Street nightclub district. The quarrel allegedly prompted Vanecko to punch or push Koschman, who hit his head on the ground and died 12 days later.
Investigators initially determined the 6’3″, 230 pound Vanecko punched the 5’5″, 140 pound Koschman in self-defense. But in April, Cook County Judge Michael Toomin appointed Webb as a special prosecutor to re-investigate the case, after the Koschman family and others criticized the police handling of the case.
The Koschman family and other critics of the original investigation have said they believe police and prosecutors might have decided not to charge Vanecko because he is Daley’s nephew.
Lawyers for Vanecko have said they’re disappointed with the indictment, and intend to prove Koschman was the aggressor during the 2004 fight with Vanecko.
If convicted, Vanecko would face anywhere from probation to five years in prison.
Webb has said the special grand jury he convened is still looking into the handling of how police and prosecutors handled the original investigation.