Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Timeline: key figures, dates in 2000 Winnebago County jail lawsuit

The following are key events in the ongoing alleged jail overcrowding lawsuit in Winnebago County:

1976

* Winnebago County jail on State Street opens with 394 beds.

1989

* Timothy Chatmon imprisoned on alleged murder charges that were ultimately dropped years later. He currently awaits pardon from governor on the charge.

1993

* Voters reject proposed property tax increase to pay for 300-bed addition to existing jail.

1994

* Chatmon said attorney John F. Heckinger Jr. approached him to be a plaintiff in an alleged jail overcrowding lawsuit with inmate James Thomas.

* Heckinger files a similar lawsuit in nearby Stephenson County.

1995

* State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34, Rockford) sponsors a bill that would allow certain counties to impose a sales tax for “public safety purposes.” In effect, the bill would switch funding sources for changes to the jail from property taxes to sales taxes.

* Winnebago County Board Chairman Gene Quinn (R) testifies in Springfield in support of Syverson’s bill.

* Chatmon is released from jail in February on appeals bond, only to be re-imprisoned about four months later by local officials on disputed drug and weapon charges.

1996

* Syverson’s bill becomes Illinois law.

1997

* Winnebao County agrees to settle first jail lawsuit, which includes a three-year moratorium on jail lawsuits. Chatmon said he received nothing from the settlement.

2000

* Jail lawsuit moratorium expires, and soon after a new jail lawsuit is filed in March.

* Chatmon said Heckinger asked him in March to be a plaintiff in a second alleged jail overcrowding lawsuit. Chatmon said the lawsuit was supposed to be about unsanitary conditions in the jail, but it devolved into a lawsuit about building a large, new jail.

* Chatmon earns parole, and is released from prison in December. He and his wife move to Texas after his release about one year later.

2001

* Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli chooses private practice attorney Paul R. Cicero to represent the county’s interests in the jail lawsuit.

* Chatmon’s son, Timothy C. Chatmon Jr., is jailed on robbery and weapons charges.

* Chatmon’s son is added as a plaintiff to the jail lawsuit because “there was a threat that the suit would be thrown out because I was out of jail,” Chatmon said.

2002

* Voters approve referendum for county-wide, one percentage-point, sales tax increase to be used for “public safety purposes.” The referendum campaign capitalized on citizen fears of criminals being released into the community, due to lack of jail beds.

2003

* Heckinger is charged by the state with unauthorized use of his clients’ money “for his own business or personal purposes,” and commingling one of his client’s funds.

* Winnebago County sales tax increases from 6.25 to 7.25 percent to pay for new jail and other public safety programs.

County agrees in federal court to build new jail.

* Winnebago County Board approves paying Chatmon’s attorneys $152,707.

2004

* Chatmon files a motion to “nullify” the agreement that stipulated building the jail. He begins search for new legal representation. Chatmon said he was not aware and did not approve of the agreement to build the new jail.

* Chatmon’s motion is denied by Federal District Court Judge Philip G. Reinhard on grounds his petition was untimely.

Heckinger has his law license suspended for 60 days.

* Chatmon received a letter from Heckinger that said the issue of compensation “will be” addressed “in 2007 or later.”

* County begins buying property and destroying structures to make way for the 80-foot high, 588,000 square-foot facility.

* Construction work begins to build the 1,212-bed jail.

2006

*Chatmon’s attorneys file a motion to drop his personal claims, but want to continue to represent the “classes” in the lawsuit. The court grants Heckinger’s request to drop Chatmon’s personal claims from the lawsuit in early 2007.

2007

* New jail opens

* Heckinger and his lawsuit partner, Attorney Thomas E. Greenwald, seek an additional $185,711 to the $152,707 they have already been paid from Winnebago County taxpayers for a total of $343, 418.

* Meanwhile, Cicero’s private law firm Cicero and France, P. C., have already been paid $356,865 from 2001 to 2007 for their legal services.

* Chatmon continues his quest for compensation for his personal claims in court. However, he is forced into representing himself without an attorney, and prospects for compensation appear dim.

Thanks to Jeff Havens. Mr Havens is a former staff writer and award-winning reporter for The Rock River Times, a weekly newspaper in Rockford, Ill.

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