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Criminal case closed against former Kane coroner

Kane County Coroner Chuck West.

Kane County Coroner Chuck West.

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Updated: September 4, 2012 6:10AM

ST. CHARLES — A case that started quietly three years ago with an investigation prompted by an insider’s tip ended Thursday as a special prosecutor went through the formality of dropping charges against former Kane County Coroner Chuck West, who died last month.

Charles Colburn, who was appointed to try West, asked to dismiss the case during a brief hearing before Judge John McAdams.

West was charged with official misconduct in 2010 amid allegations two of his deputy coroners — one of them West’s son, Eric — took a TV from the home of a dead Carpentersville man in 2007.

West pleaded not guilty to the accusations, twice filing to have the case thrown out — once claiming the term “value” was too ambiguous in the context of the case and another time on grounds the official misconduct law was unconstitutional. Judges denied both arguments.

Attorneys said the case was headed for trial, as no discussion of a plea had taken place.

But West died last month from complications involving his liver transplant surgery.

Adding to the unusual situation of the elected coroner facing criminal charges was the number of judges who oversaw at least one hearing. Court records show eight different judges — including Judge Jordan Gallagher who died while the case was ongoing — handled the case at some point. Several judges were unable to take the case because of previous relationships with West, who was first elected as coroner in 2000.

“It’s not the kind of ending that gives anyone any satisfaction,” Colburn said after Thursday’s hearing. “Given the bumpy road and strange circumstances (of the case), I can’t say I’m surprised it ended this way.”

West, 69, of Elgin, stopped attending court earlier this year as he battled liver disease. His condition worsened to the point of hospitalization, prompting his attorney, Gary Johnson, to raise issue with whether West would be physically and mentally fit to stand trial. West underwent a liver transplant, but died on July 4 of complications from the surgery.

Johnson reiterated West’s belief the charges were politically motivated.

“It’s a sad ending. I know he was looking forward to proving his innocence,” said Johnson, who described West as a “pleasure” to work with.

As West’s criminal case ends, a lawsuit originally filed against him remains in civil court.

Chief Deputy Coroner Loren Carrera sued West in 2011 claiming he retaliated against her because she gave information to authorities that ultimately led to the criminal charges. Two co-defendants and portions of the lawsuit have been dismissed, but West still faced an accusation he violated the Whistleblower Act after learning Carrera had tipped investigators.

Carrera’s attorney said recently he expected to refile the case, in light of West’s death, to name Kane County and West’s estate. Carrera has been handling West’s duties on an interim basis since February, her attorney previously said.

The civil lawsuit resumes Monday with a hearing on West’s court-appointed attorney’s request to be paid $18,000 in fees to handle the case. The Kane County state’s attorney’s office could not take on the case because of conflicts tied to the criminal case and its working relationship with the coroner’s office.

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