A candidate for Tazewell County State's Attorney faces a professional misconduct allegation. Here are the details
The Libertarian candidate for Tazewell County State's Attorney is facing a professional misconduct allegation involving the veteran Tazewell prosecutor recently sworn in as a judge.
In a four-page complaint filed Sept. 6, Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) administrator Jerome Larkin alleges Gabe Casey, a 38-year-old Morton attorney running for the top prosecutor's job, threatened to pursue criminal charges in order to gain an advantage in a civil matter.
Casey represents Jacob Goodbred in a dispute against his aunt and uncle, Julie and Jeff Barbee, over the alleged financial exploitation of Goodbred's great-aunt, Marilyn Worlow.
On April 4, Casey sent the Barbees the letter at the heart of the complaint. The letter alleges the couple financially exploited Worlow, and demands a settlement of $950,000 with Goodbred within two weeks of receipt of the note. Casey writes he and his client will pursue both civil litigation and begin the criminal process if the settlement offer isn't accepted.
Goodbred agreed to pay Casey 10% of any settlement reached — in this case, a $95,000 attorney's fee that Casey describes as standard for such a matter.
Casey writes he had already spoken with then-Tazewell County State's Attorney Stewart Umholtz about the case, and said Umholtz was interested in prosecuting the matter.
But the ARDC said those claims are false. The complaint states Umholtz wasn't told the details of the alleged crime in the conversation, including the victim's name or those of Jeff and Julie Barbee. Julie Barbee is a former employee of the Tazewell County State's Attorney's office. The complaint also states Umholtz never indicated he was interested in prosecuting the case.
In a conversation with a WCBU reporter, Casey said an informal exchange about the case came up at the end of a conversation he had with Umholtz about potentially running for state's attorney, prior to Umholtz's announcement he would run for a judgeship in the 10th Judicial Circuit.
Casey said that talk included a general description of the case and questions about the process of filing a financial exploitation case. He said he didn't mention the names of the people involved to the prosecutor because he wanted to come to a settlement and keep the case out of court if possible.
"He didn't want to do this," Casey said of Goodbred, his client. "This was his aunt and uncle still, and he has a very close relationship with his grandma, who, that's her son. And it's already caused family tensions. So we don't want to litigate. We don't want to go to civil court. We don't want the criminal charges."
Casey maintains Umholtz said it would be the type of case his office would prosecute in the case during that first conversation, but Casey said he never asserted Umholtz had agreed to a prosecution. Casey said Umholtz told him he couldn't make an official determination without receiving a police report and learning more facts about the case.
The ARDC alleges Casey violated professional conduct rules with his claims about his conversation with Umholtz in the letter to the Barbees. The complaint states Casey's assertions were false because the details of the case, including the names of those involved, weren't disclosed to Umholtz at that time of the discussion. But Casey said he's not aware of any case law negating that a conversation took place simply because names were not included.
Casey said the state's attorney called him in for a second conversation after learning one of the people involved in the dispute was Julie Barbee, his former employee. Casey alleges Umholtz pressured him to retract his claims about their first conversation. He also claims the state's attorney had a law enforcement officer present in the room during this conversation.
The ARDC complaint followed. The administrator of the commission is requesting the case be assigned to a panel for a fact-finding hearing, conclusions, and potential recommendations for professional discipline.
Casey said he wasn't aware of the allegation he'd broken a professional rule until he was called upon to give a sworn deposition. He believes the complaint is blowing the matter out of proportion.
"Even if you want to say, 'OK, I broke a rule,' and I went 31 (miles per hour) in a 30, you know, this isn't a DUI. This is a mile per hour over the speed limit is what it is. I didn't take anybody's money. I didn't profit," Casey said.
Casey claims he declined a portion of an approximately $60,000 payment reportedly made to Goodbred by his uncle because Casey believed his client needed the money more than he did.
Casey said he believes Julie Barbee's former association with the state's attorney's office is one reason why the disciplinary case was escalated to this level, but he also alleges there's a political aspect to the case. Tazewell County Chief Assistant State's Attorney Kevin Johnson was appointed to the top prosecutor's job when Umholtz was sworn in as a judge. Both men are Republicans. Johnson is on the ballot against Casey, a Libertarian, this November. No Democrats are running for the elected position.
Judge Umholtz declined to comment on the ARDC complaint, citing his position as a circuit judge and the possibility he could be called as a witness by the ARDC. He said he was advised not to make any public comment on a pending disciplinary matter.