While serving as vice chairman of the Illinois Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor (ILSAAP) Board of Governors, Illinois Second District Appellate Court Justice Joe Birkett advocated two annual Agency contracts in 2007 and 2008 for his political "game changer" consultants who then provided him with extensive one-on-one tax-paid work.
ILSAAP contracted Reverse Spin of Wheaton from January 2008 through June 2009 for media consulting. Reverse Spin is co-owned by Dan Curry and John Pearman, self-dubbed as "game changers". The firm renamed itself Delos Communications.) From October through December 2007, the state agency had contracted with Reverse Spin's predecessor, Curry Public Strategies.
According to detailed Board minutes, these contracts were ushered in by the ILSAAP vice chairman. Activity reports submitted to ILSAAP with invoices show Reverse Spin devoted considerable one-on-one tax-paid time with their political clients -- DuPage County State's Attorney Birkett and McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi.
ILSAAP Board of Governors first discussed hiring the media consultants at a special board meeting held Aug. 30, 2007. The Board minutes read: "Board Member Haida cautioned that the client base of the media consultant should not include any entity or person who would be in conflict with the interests of prosecutors."
Also not mentioned in the minutes or proposals was the consultants' damage control in ongoing wrongful conviction federal civil lawsuits filed by Gordon "Randy" Steidl and Herb Whitlock, who remain under ceaseless "investigation" by ILSAAP for the 1986 murders of Dyke and Karen Rhoads of Paris, IL.
Since 2005, the media consultants had been working closely with the lawsuits' defense team, including Bianchi's attorney, Terry Ekl, and James Sotos & Assoc. -- both from DuPage County. Last September, ILSAAP unanimously approved preparation of an amicus curiae brief supporting public payment of legal fees of Ekl's client in these lawsuits. Birkett led the discussion of this brief at the Board meeting.
Prior to the first ILSAAP contract in 2007, Citizens to Elect Joe Birkett had paid Curry Public Strategies over $55,000 for the state's attorney's run for Illinois Lieutenant Governor. When Birkett teamed up with Judy Baar Topinka after the 2006 primary, Topinka's gubernatorial campaign paid the media consultants $28,000.
In 2008 and 2009 while the ILSAAP contracts were current, Citizens to Elect Joe Birkett had paid Reverse Spin $49,500 for consulting. The perpetual candidate's slogan at the time was unveiled: Joe Birkett for Illinois. Proven Leader. Proven Corruption Buster. Reverse Spin's ILSAAP activity reports divulge that they accompanied Birkett to his anti-corruption testimony before the Illinois Reform Commission on Apr. 9, 2009. “The best way to clean up corruption in
is to elect and appoint honest leaders," Birkett told Commissioners. "We don’t need new laws to tell them what is right and what is wrong.” Illinois
Birkett announced his bid for Illinois attorney general in July 2009, then pulled out of the race one month later, just after Reverse Spin's ILSAAP contract had ended.
"Board Member Birkett stressed the fact that Mr. Curry has great respect for the prosecution and police function in the criminal justice system."
"(Curry) He emphasized that he is an advocate and supporter of prosecutors. He observed that many times the prosecutor is doing a great job but the media doesn't see it that way."
"Mr. Curry reported that he could help state's attorneys as situations arise when an attack from the media is imminent, where something adverse has been printed, or when an emergency situation presents itself. He would be available to the state's attorneys to review the facts and circumstances and devise a strategy to deal with the media."
(Curry) "Occasionally, a state's attorney knows something bad is coming out, or something is going to be portrayed as bad will come out...in that event the tactic to be used may be to aggressively pre-empt the prospective bad publicity by putting a positive spin on the case."
When Vice Chairman Birkett made the motion for Reverse Spin's contract renewal on Sept. 25, 2008, Citizens to Elect Joe Birkett had paid the consultant $4,000 just eight days earlier; the Committee to Re-Elect Louis Bianchi made a payment of $1,500 nine days earlier. Reverse Spin's renewed 2008-2009 contract was increased by over $4,000 per month from the previous year.
Through it all, Curry Public Strategies/Reverse Spin were receiving $3,000 per month as media consultants/spokespersons for the DuPage County Election Commission. The Election Board's attorney, Patrick Bond of Bond, Dickson & Assoc., has contributed over $19,000 to Citizens to Elect Joe Birkett. DuPage has the only county electoral board in Illinois not under the jurisdiction and oversight of the County; any complaints are presented to the state's attorneys office. Reverse Spin continues to work for the Election Commission, the DuPage County Auditor's on-line checkbook reports.
Birkett was appointed to the Second District Illinois Appellate Court last December. Ekl represents John Harris, star witness for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in the ongoing trial of former Governor Rod Blagojevich.
McHenryLeaks asks *many* questions:
The ILSAAP Board of Governors normally meets quarterly. What urgent business required the Board to hold a *special* board meeting on Aug. 30, 2007? It had just met on July 18 and was scheduled to meet again three weeks later on Sept. 19. Surely, it's a big deal to gather eight state's attorneys from around the state together in Springfield?
What are the ethics guidelines for ILSAAP board members, particularly for one holding a high-ranking position, on recommending vendor contracts to the Board of Governors?
What is ILSAAP's vetting process for vendors, particularly one that will represent the entity in the media (except in McHenry County where they remain incognito)? Are vendors making proposals to ILSAAP required to make disclosures, including potential conflicts of interest? Are Board members required to make disclosures about their relationship with potential vendors? Or, are disclosures simply not necessary when everyone in the room already knows all about you?
The Open Meetings Act requires that any violations must be reported within 60 days. If ILSAAP Board of Governors Board meeting minutes are not approved until 90 days later at their next quarterly meeting, does this mean that citizens must schlep across the prairie with gas at $4.59 per gallon to monitor our state's attorneys and assure compliance with the law? (And about those meeting minutes not being posted on their website...)
Where was the line drawn between campaigning and the one-on-one tax-paid state work for Bianchi and Birkett? Just how did that work?
The elephant in the room was that highly-visible consultants had worked for Birkett's state-wide political campaigns. What was the decision-making process of the ILSAAP Board of Governors for approving contracts with consultants they very likely knew were closely associated with the vice chairman?
Will ILSAAP, Birkett and Bianchi share all the consultants' one-on-one work product with tax payers?
Did McHenryLeaks read the remarks correctly of Jerry Nora, sitting in for board member Richard Devine in August 2007, which apparently say that they want (a media consultant) to damage a defendant's right to a fair trial? If this is a typo, why did nine state's attorneys/ board members approve these minutes the following month? Or perhaps it's not a typo? Is this another reason ILSAAP doesn't place its Board of Governors meeting minutes on-line?
Did Reverse Spin come up with the catchy 2009 campaign slogan, "Joe Birkett for Illinois. Proven Leader. Proven Corruption Buster."?
Following are excerpts from the Aug. 30, 2007, the Sept. 19, 2007, and the Sept. 25, 2008 board minutes of the Illinois Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor Board of Governors meetings discussing Curry Public Strategies and Reverse Spin. To enlarge, click or double-click: