In Southern IL, donations talk, defendants walk

The Belleville News Democrat is reporting on a series of defendants whose contributions to a State Attorney’s fund allowing them to walk away from criminal charges. Matthew F. Koesterer had no history of criminal behavior, and had been charged with marijuana cultivation. Circuit Judge Richard Brown of Randolph County ordered a $22,500 contribution from Koerstner to a prosecutor’s fund. These funds are typically used at the discretion of the prosecutor for a variety of purposes, including training of police and defraying the costs incurred by the prosecutor’s office.

Charles J. Northrup, general counsel to the bar association has stated that “It’s not our place to comment on the legality or ethics of the practice, but it does raise concerns that the public’s perception of our justice system may be undermined. Northwest University’s law school Professor Stephen Lubet stated that even if all actions were above board, the impression is still created of wrongdoing.

The local Sherriff was unaware of the deal, even though his deputies had conducted the surveillance resulting in the charges of marijuana cultivation. The plants were described as being over 10 feet tall and in a remote area.

There have been previous instances of plea bargains involving marijuana cases where “contributions” were made to various funds. One contribution involved sharing a $15,000 “contribution” among various funds including the Red Bud Drug Dog Fund and the Percy Police Department.

Several of the individuals ordered to make contributions have complained of the financial hardships involved. Matthew Koersterer was required to pay a $7,000 fine on top of the $25,000 contribution and was also sentenced to probation and required to serve weekends in jail. Tamara Koersterer described the financial result as “ruining us” and stated that they had been pressured for even more money. Roger Hutchison had charges of criminal sexual assault of a child dropped as part of a deal involving a $7,000 contribution to the States Attorney fund. Mr. Hutchison claims that the real reason that charges were dropped was that he did nothing wrong. For the sake of the neighborhood’s children, we should hope that Mr. Hutchison is telling the truth, even if that calls into question just how just the justice system in Southern Illinois is.