Outside judge could clear dirty air surrounding Vanecko case

It stinks that it took eight years to get an indictment in this heater case. And to his credit, Judge Hill immediately disclosed that he worked closely with Daley when the former mayor was Cook County state's attorney. Daley also appointed him to the board of a highly political contract mill, the Chicago Transit Authority. Hill said he believed he could be "fair and impartial" and wouldn't recuse himself from the case unless the lawyers ask.

But with his connections, Hill should have known better. He shouldn't wait to be asked to recuse himself.

Richard Kling, a longtime attorney and law professor who teaches professional responsibility at Chicago-Kent College of Law, said it's all about perception.

"I like Art Hill," Kling said. "I know Judge Hill. I think this case has such ramifications and has been in the public eye for so long, even the remotest appearance of impropriety needs to be avoided. … There are allegations that it was swept under the rug. Then there are allegations of political influence. It's especially important to avoid the issue of impropriety."

Tribune reporter Jason Meisner found that at least two-thirds of the criminal court judges in Cook County had ties to Daley or the prosecutor's office. That's only natural, since Daley and his surrogate successors have been running the place for decades.

"I would say probably 85 to 90 percent of the building were either assistant state's attorneys under Richard Daley when he was the state's attorney or somehow got something through Daley and his administration, such as Art Hill, when he was appointed at the CTA," Kling said. "They all have connections."

Ask yourself: What if the names in this case were reversed? What if a Daley family member was the victim and Koschman were the accused?

Would an indictment have taken eight years? No. And given the politics of Cook County, would Koschman feel as if he could get a fair trial here? No.

So a judge who's never even thought about dancing along the Chicago Way is required.

Because to try the nephew and grandson of a boss in a city like Chicago, in a case as political as this one, there shouldn't be the slightest whiff that inside that black robe is somebody somebody sent.

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass

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