With several supporters watching in the spectator gallery, former Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd pleaded not guilty to five counts of perjury Friday morning in Lake County Circuit Court.
The charges against Rudd, 70, allege he committed perjury by signing election petitions that were collected by others, not himself, prior to the 2016 primary election.
After the allegations surfaced, but long before he was indicted, Rudd withdrew his nomination for re-election as a Democrat, and he unsuccessfully ran in the general election as a write-in candidate.
Prior to entering Rudd's not guilty pleas, Rudd's defense attorney, Jed Stone, asked for a substitution of judges, and Circuit Judge Victoria Rossetti was assigned the case, replacing Circuit Judge Daniel Shanes.
Last fall, Shanes heard and denied a petition for a new trial filed by Melissa Calusinski, a day care worked convicted of murder of a boy in her care. During that hearing, Rudd testified that he believes medical evidence points to Calusinski being innocent.
Rudd declined to comment Friday, referring questions to Stone. With regard to the motion for a judge substitution, Stone would not answer questions, saying only that it is every defendant's right to make such a request.
Stone also announced in court that he would file a motion to dismiss the charges against Rudd within the next few weeks. He said the motion would be based on his belief that the charges do not meet the criteria of Illinois statutes.Defense attorney Jed Stone Jim Newton / Lake County News-Sun Defense attorney Jed Stone spoke to reporters Friday morning after representing former Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd at an arraignment on perjury charges in Lake County Circuit Court. Defense attorney Jed Stone spoke to reporters Friday morning after representing former Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd at an arraignment on perjury charges in Lake County Circuit Court. (Jim Newton / Lake County News-Sun)
After the court appearance, Stone said the charges against Rudd were basically retaliation for certain comments Rudd made as coroner that ran contrary to the opinions of authorities in major criminal cases.
"It was political payback for Dr. Rudd embarrassing law enforcement because they did not do their jobs," Stone said. "Everybody knows it. I am getting such favorable comments (regarding Rudd) from the public."
A handful of protesters with signs stood outside of the Lake County Building prior to Rudd's court appearance, and several supporters and community activists, including members of Lake County Black Lives Matter, attended his court hearing.
Prosecutors and Lake County Sheriff's Office officials have adamantly denied that there was anything political about the grand jury indictments against Rudd.
Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim said the investigation began after private citizens submitted complaints to his office. He said that because it is part of his job to represent local public officials, which Rudd was at the time, he immediately asked an independent special prosecutor to look into the allegations.Protesters outside the Lake County Building Jim Newton / Lake County News-Sun A small group of protesters marches outside of the Lake County Building Friday morning in support of former Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd, who pleaded not guilty to perjury charges Friday. A small group of protesters marches outside of the Lake County Building Friday morning in support of former Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd, who pleaded not guilty to perjury charges Friday. (Jim Newton / Lake County News-Sun)
Brian Towne, a former LaSalle County state's attorney who now works with the Illinois Appellate Prosecutor's Office, is prosecuting the case against Rudd.
Stone told reporters after the court appearance that prosecutors should be embarrassed, and Towne, walking by at the time, said "I am not embarrassed to have brought that prosecution."
The exchange seemed good-natured, with both attorneys smiling.
During his term in office, Rudd clashed at times with law enforcement officials, particularly in regard to the Calusinski case and the self-inflicted shooting death of Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz. Rudd said publicly that suicide was a possible cause of the officer's death prior to investigators making that announcement.
On Friday, Rossetti set a July 10 trial date for Rudd, and scheduled a case management hearing for April 4, when the expected motion to dismiss the charges against Rudd may be addressed.
Rudd, free on bond, faces a potential sentencing range upon conviction from probation to 2 to 5 years in prison.
The initial challenge to Rudd's candidate petitions was filed by attorney Burton Odelson in December 2015 on behalf of two objectors raising the same allegations — that Rudd was not the person who gathered the signatures on some of the sheets that he signed.
After Rudd was indicted on the charges, Odelson, when contacted, said he felt the felony charges against Rudd are "overkill."
A Lake County grand jury indicted Rudd on the perjury charges Feb. 15.
Undersheriff Raymond Rose said the investigation that led to the indictments began in January 2016 and is ongoing. He said it is possible it could lead to charges against others as well.
Rose said it appears from the investigation that some of Rudd's petition papers contained signatures for people who had been dead more than 10 years. In other cases, Rose said, signatures were listed for people who later said they didn't sign the petitions.
Those were not the issues addressed in the indictment, which alleges Rudd falsely claimed to have witnessed signatures on five pages of his nominating petitions.
The law requires the person who circulates a nominating petition to sign each page to attest that the signatures were witnessed and are valid.
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