DECATUR — Macon County State’s Attorney Jay Scott on Wednesday denounced a grand jury’s report about his office work practices as “slanderous” and unlawful, and he said the jury went way beyond its authority when it called for a third-party review of his office.
Special prosecutor Stephanie Wong, a Bloomington attorney, led the investigation into allegations of misconduct against Scott. She filed a report of the grand jury’s findings in Macon County Circuit Court last week and said no criminal charges would be filed.
However, the grand jury report described the work environment in Scott’s office as “toxic and threatening.” The jurors recommended forwarding their findings to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, which investigates allegations of wrongdoing against lawyers.
Scott on Wednesday questioned Wong’s fairness, saying she had never tried to talk to him since she was assigned the case in May.
“Our office exhibits a supportive atmosphere in which a teamwork attitude is displayed on a daily basis,” he wrote in a three-page statement, “a fact of which Wong, who has never set foot in our office, is totally unaware.”
The Herald & Review provided a copy of Scott’s statement to Wong on Wednesday and sought comment. She said she would respond Thursday.
Greg Mattingley, the Macon County board member whose petition started the year-and-a-half investigation into Scott, agreed with him on Wednesday that the grand jury had gone too far. He said grand juries are meant to determine if there is probable cause to go forward with charges — not, as the jury concluded in its report, whether the charges “can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“They went too far and beyond what a grand jury is supposed to do,” said Mattingley, who retired in 2012 after more than 35 years in legal practice that included several years as a prosecutor.
Randy Cox, a Springfield attorney who handles criminal defense cases, said he has never seen a grand jury report like the one in Scott’s case in more than 25 years of legal practice.
In general, grand juries “either indict or they don’t,” he said. “It’s not commentary, if you will.”
The allegations against Scott date back to September 2016, when Mattingley and attorney John Davis filed the petition seeking an investigation.
Scott, a Democrat, was facing Republican Dan Hassinger in the November election that year. Scott was accused of involving his staff in inappropriate political activity as he campaigned for re-election, an accusation that the grand jury found was one week beyond the statute of limitations for criminal charges.
He was also accused of asking employees to shuttle his children in county-issued vehicles and storing pornographic material on a county-owned thumb drive, both charges that the grand jurors said they did not believe could be proven.
Scott repeatedly denied the allegations and said they were motivated by politics, an assertion he continued Wednesday. He described Mattingley and Davis as political supporters of Hassinger.
“This proceeding was a politically motivated witch hunt fueled by the desire for revenge on the part of distrungled former employees of our office,” he said.
Mattingley said he was not a strong supporter of Hassinger. He marched in one parade for Hassinger because he happened to be at the parade for another reason and was asked by the Macon County Republican Party chairman to participate, he said.
Mattingley said he talked to five employees of Scott’s office, three of whom were still working for him at the time, before he decided to file the complaint.
“And I damn near chickened out. I weighed whether I wanted to go forward with this for a month and a half,” he said. “I finally decided it wasn’t my job to decide whether it was or wasn’t (misconduct). It was my responsibility to step forward.”
The original complaint alleges that Scott:
- allowed employees to engage in electioneering within county offices;
- used his county-owned smartphone for political and personal uses;
- asked an employee of the Macon County Sheriff's Office to support his campaign in community parades;
- showed pornographic material to a female state's attorney employee and female crime victim on a computer owned by the county.
Davis could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.
Hassinger, who lost elections to Scott in 2016 and 2012, denied any involvement in the allegations.
Grand jury’s role
Grand jury investigations are conducted behind closed doors. Prosecutors interview witnesses and present evidence, and the grand jury determines whether there are grounds for criminal charges.
Cox, the Springfield criminal defense attorney, said grand jury proceedings are secret, and the subject of the investigation typically is not asked to testify. Cox was speaking in general about legal practices and not specifically about Scott’s case, in which he was not involved.
“Generally, all you’re seeing with them is the charge, or you’re not seeing a charge,” he said.
In Scott’s case, the grand jury said it found "coercion, favoritism, inadequate record keeping, retaliation and abuse of power" in Scott’s office and recommended a third-party review of human resource practices, record retention and separation of duties.
But it’s not clear who could even conduct such a review. Macon County Board Chairman Jay Dunn said he did not believe it was the place of the county board. “We set his budget, but he’s supposed to run his office,” he said.
Dunn said the board’s justice and finance committees would likely discuss the matter.
Mattingley, a member of the board’s justice committee, said the board doesn’t have oversight over Scott’s work practices. “He’s an elected official,” Mattingley said. “He gets to run his office without us telling him how to do it.”
Scott said Illinois law does not give grand juries power to issue general reports. Further, he cited an appellate court ruling that said such reports could be considered libelous and “could subject a person to rebuke and ridicule even though not officially charged with a crime.”
He said the report had “defamed and insulted an entire office of hardworking, dedicated public servants.” There are 33 employees in the state’s attorney’s office — 17 attorneys, 14 support staff and two investigators — and Scott said they did not deserve to be denigrated by Wong and the grand jury report.
While the grand jury also recommended its findings be forwarded to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, or ARDC, no one will know whether that has been done for months — if ever.
The commission’s investigations into complaints are confidential, said Cox, who has represented other lawyers involved in disciplinary matters before the commission.
“It can take quite a long time because of the complexity of it,” he said. “Until a certain point, the public won’t know (about disciplinary proceedings),” he said.
If evidence of misconduct is found, the case could ultimately proceed to a hearing board. Potential discipline runs the gamut — “everything from nothing, in terms of it getting dismissed, to disbarment,” Cox said.
Scott said Wednesday he did not know whether he was under investigation by the commission.
Wong was appointed to lead the investigation by DeWitt County Judge Karle Koritz. The judge said in a court order that he had reached out to a number of state’s attorney’s offices around the state to find a special prosecutor, but those efforts were unsuccessful.
He subsequently denied a request from the county to appoint a prosecutor from Randolph County, about 165 miles from Decatur.
The Illinois Attorney General’s Office said in May that it would not serve as a prosecutor because of a conflict of interest. On Wednesday, Mattingley criticized that delay, saying it pushed the electioneering allegation against Scott past the statute of limitations.
“If they had not sat on their hands for four months, he would be facing a charge of misconduct,” Mattingley said.
The county is required to pay Wong’s attorney’s fees, which are $11,541, and another $8,102 for an investigator who worked for her.
If a public prosecutor had been filed, Scott said, taxpayers would not be paying the fees for a private attorney. The amount of hours she said she worked on the case — 45.7 — is “less time than the attorneys in our office work in a typical work week,” he said.
“If our prosecutors were paid at her requested rate, their individual salaries would exceed $600,000 a year,” he said.
Dunn said he was pleasantly surprised by the amount for the attorney’s fees, which he anticipated would be higher. He suggested that the money could come from the budget for Scott’s office. Mattingley said the money also could come from a separate fund for legal judgments.