Updated: January 19, 2013 6:16AM
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Arthur Hill did the right thing Monday in deciding to remove himself from the controversial case involving the death of David Koschman.
Richard “R.J.” Vanecko, a nephew of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the April 2004 death of Koschman, 21, who died after Vanecko allegedly punched him in the face and he hit his head on the pavement during an argument on a Chicago street.
After a suspect police investigation in which Vanecko was not charged or even interviewed, the case languished for years until the Sun-Times started nosing around and raised serious questions about whether police and prosecutors covered things up to protect Vanecko. The newspaper’s stories led to a special prosecutor being appointed this year and a grand jury indictment this month.
Hill was chosen as the judge for the case through the county’s computerized, random selection process. During Vanecko’s initial hearing last week, Hill acknowledged ties to the former mayor but said he could be “fair and impartial” and did not recuse himself. That was the wrong decision, which he soon realized.
No matter his reputation for integrity, Hill’s past associations with Daley and former State’s Attorney Dick Devine created potential conflicts of interest impermissible in such a high-profile case — especially in a place with a corrupt history, political judiciary and skeptical citizenry as Cook County.
Hill served as an assistant state’s attorney while Daley held the office, and the former mayor later appointed him to the Chicago Transit Authority Board. What’s more, Hill was the top assistant to Devine, who was a friend and political ally of Daley and whose handling of the Vanecko case when he was state’s attorney is a key aspect of the case.
Clearly, Hill had to withdraw from the case. The special prosecutor has asked for a judge from outside Cook County — the proper move in light of Daley’s long and strong political control of the county. The Koschman family deserves that.