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County auditor gets to go back to her office

Judge rules County Board overstepped its bounds in barring her

LaSalle County Auditor Jody Wilkinson was allowed to return to work beginning May 3.

Judge Eugene P. Daugherity ruled May 2 the LaSalle County Board overstepped its bounds by barring Wilkinson from her elected office at its Oct. 2 meeting.

Wilkinson is charged with theft and misuse of government money.

Daugherity said there is no law or precedent for a county board to remove an elected official prior to due process of the law, which in this case, would be Wilkinson’s criminal trial scheduled Monday, May 20.

The judge said Wilkinson has a presumption of innocence until her case is settled.

He said the county must return her keys, allow her back into her office, and ultimately return her status to the way it was prior to the County Board’s Oct. 2 vote.

The County Board barred and then fired auditor employees Tori Artman and Pamela Wright, also charged with theft, but Daugherity said his ruling Thursday is focused solely on Wilkinson, and he was not making any rulings in regard to the employees’ status.

Wilkinson gave no comment after Thursday’s hearing, including on how she would handle the employee situation. County Board Chairman Jim Olson has said the county is looking to hire union employees to replace the auditor employees, and temporary employees have been utilized since. The county’s Salary and Labor Committee voted April 25 to fire the two employees.

Olson said he would sit down and talk to Wilkinson about how the auditor’s office will proceed moving forward. He said he doesn’t think she can bring back the two auditor employees, believing the County Board has an equal right to discipline them.

The employees’ attorney Todd Martin was at the hearing Thursday and didn’t comment on his clients’ status, only to say “we’ll see” in regard to future actions.

“I’m assuming we’ll go back to normal, except for the two employees will not be there,” Olson said.

LaSalle County State’s Attorney Karen Donnelly gave no comment after the May 2 hearing.

The state’s attorney’s office was previously successful in keeping Wilkinson away from her office as a condition of her bond. Prosecutors said Wilkinson’s duties require frequent interaction with witnesses to her case, including one unnamed person who is a principal witness and could easily be intimidated. Wilkinson also would have direct access to county payroll records that are subject to the charges against her, they argued.

In court May 2, Daugherity said evidence was already secured, and if Wilkinson tried to intimidate witnesses or tamper with her case, she could be charged for it, so he was not concerned.

Daugherity said his decision supercedes the bond condition.

Wilkinson was represented in the May 2 matter by Bureau County State’s Attorney Geno Caffarini, who accepted the court’s appointment to represent Wilkinson in civil matters of her case.

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