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Judge in Vanecko Case Steps Aside

By Erin Meyer | December 17, 2012 12:27pm | Updated on December 17, 2012 7:15pm
 Richard J. "R.J." Vancecko, a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, is charged with manslaughter in the death of David Koschman following a drunken fight in the Rush Street area.
Richard J. "R.J." Vancecko, a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, is charged with manslaughter in the death of David Koschman following a drunken fight in the Rush Street area.
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Chicago Police Department

CHICAGO — The judge assigned to the manslaughter case against the nephew of former mayor Richard M. Daley stepped aside Monday because of his connections to the once-powerful pol and his replacement immediately recommended a judge from outside Cook County be brought in to hear the explosive case.

Cook County Judge Arthur F. Hill, Jr., who worked for Daley in the State's Attorney's office and who was assigned at random to the case, recused himself from the manslaughter trial of Richard J. "R.J." Vanecko, Daley's nephew and was replaced by Judge Michael Toomin.

Chief Judge Timothy Evans accepted Hill's recusal Monday evening and is asking the state supreme court to put a judge from another county on the case.

In his letter, Evans said that “[permitting] the appearance of impropriety acknowledged by Judge Toomin to persist would undermine public confidence in the administration of justice."

Vanecko was indicted earlier this month by a special prosecutor in the death of David Koschman — the 21-year-old Mt. Prospect man who fell into a coma and died after Vanecko allegedly punched him during a drunken altercation in the Rush Street area in 2004.

While maintaining that he could be "fair and impartial," Hill disclosed during Vanecko's first court appearance last week that he had served as an assistant state’s attorney under Daley, was appointed by Daley to the Chicago Transit Authority Board and worked on various municipal bond transactions for the city when he was in private practice.

Hill also said he held top positions at the state's attorney's office under Richard Devine, who was Daley's successor as state's attorney and was involved in the Koschman case.

Hill announced Monday that he was stepping aside and referred the case to Toomin — the judge who originally appointed a special prosecutor to look into the handling of the Vanecko case.

When special prosecutor Dan Webb asked that a judge from outside the county be assigned, Toomin said he would refer the matter to Evans.

Toomin said in court Monday that the "perception of the public" regarding the appearance of impropriety is reason enough to look outside of the county for a new judge. 

More than eight years have passed since Koschman died of the head injury he suffered when Vanecko allegedly knocked him to the ground with one punch.

Koschman and a group of friends had been drinking on April 25, 2004 when they encountered Vanecko and another group. The two exchanged words, and Vanecko allegedly punched Koschman, who fell and hit his head.

Vanecko, now a resident of California, was not interviewed by police. They said witnesses failed to pick him out of a lineup as the individual who allegedly threw the fatal blow and that Vanecko was acting in self defense.

But the investigation in to Koschman's death has drawn criticism from his family and raised questions about the influence of clout.

The grand jury indictment of Vanecko announced earlier this month resulted from Webb's investigation.

"Through the use of physical force, and without lawful justification, recklessly performed acts which were likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another," states the indictment. "Such acts caused the death of David Koschman."

Vanecko returned to Chicago from his home in California to face the charges earlier this month, and pleaded not guilty last week.