SYCAMORE – DeKalb County Board member Riley Oncken plans to decide by early next week if he will resign in light of new questions about him also serving as a conflict public defender.
Oncken, a local defense lawyer and a Sycamore Republican, was appointed to the District 3 Republican County Board seat in March 2013, about four months before DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert appointed him to one of four special public defender positions. Conflict public defenders, who are paid $24,250 a year and are eligible for county health benefits, handle cases where the public defender’s office would have a conflict of interest.
Oncken said he was poised to be appointed chair of the County Board’s Law & Justice Committee on Wednesday, when he and other board members were surprised by an unpublished Illinois Attorney General’s opinion suggesting he might not legally be able to hold both positions.
DeKalb County State’s Civil Division Chief Stephanie Klein advised Oncken last week that he could legally hold both positions based on research that did not include the unpublished opinion.
The revelation prompted Oncken and County Board leaders to put off the committee chairman vote. Oncken and DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack are reviewing the opinion, while County Board member Anthony Cvek, a Sycamore Republican in District 4, is calling for a special prosecutor to investigate Stuckert’s appointment.
“When you have the chief law enforcement officer of the county and the chief judge of the county both signing off on this, it raises some serious questions,” Cvek said, asserting that the conflict could amount to a crime. “I think it’s a serious matter and it should be taken seriously.”
Schmack said a special prosecutor is unnecessary.
“The mere fact that another attorney has issued an opinion that contradicts my civil assistant’s opinion does not create a conflict of interest; it merely means that two attorneys have two different opinoins,” Schmack said. “We intend to throughly review this advisory opinion that Mr. Cvek has obtained that was not a published opinion and was not readily available.”
For his part, Oncken said he is going to ask a private lawyer for advice. He also plans to consult people outside the local political and legal communities about whether him holding both positions appears improper.
“The last thing I want to do is create some sort of perception that I’m doing anything improper,” Oncken said. “If the only way to remedy that is for me to step down from the county board, I’m going to do that.”
His decision could have political implications. Both Cvek and Oncken are running in separate contested races in the November election to retain their seats. Oncken wasn’t immediately certain Thursday evening if the deadlines had passed to remove his name from the ballot and to find another Republican to run in his place if he ultimately decided to drop out of the race.
Cvek was among two people who voted against appointing Onken to the County Board in March. Oncken received the fewest votes in November 2012, when Democrat Mark Pietrowski Jr. and Republican Kenneth Andersen beat him for two District 3 county board seats. Andersen resigned in February 2013 after losing the board chairmanship to fellow Republican Jeff Metzger, who had the support of Democrats.