Judge could rule Monday on GOP challenge to La Salle County state’s attorney’s race

Written ruling may come as early as Monday

A Grundy County judge could decide as early as Monday whether to throw out a Republican challenge to the race for La Salle County state’s attorney.

Thursday, Grundy County Judge Scott M. Belt announced he would take under advisement a few issues that could effectively settle the La Salle County Republican Central Committee’s bid to reverse the state’s attorney’s race. If successful, Republican Karen Donnelly, who lost her reelection bid last fall, would be reinstalled.

First up is a motion for sanctions. Streator attorney Matt Krueger said county GOP chairman Larry Smith, who’s trying to reverse the election in Donnelly’s favor, repeatedly crossed a line in his pleadings with a “pattern of false statements” against La Salle County Clerk Lori Bongartz and her handling of the ballots.

“Nobody deserves to have her reputation tarnished,” Krueger said, asking Belt to throw out Smith’s complaint once and for all. “Nobody deserves to be accused of fraud. Nobody deserves to be accused of committing a felony.”

Sandwich attorney William Hotopp said Smith simply updated his pleadings as new information became available and that dismissal would be an extreme remedy.

“These are not facts under his control,” Hotopp argued, “and this is not disregard for the court’s authority.”

Belt said he would issue a ruling before a status hearing set June 11 (it will be held virtually) and signaled his written ruling might come as early as Monday.

The judge was poker-faced on the question of sanctions but seemed to tip his hand on Krueger’s companion motion to dismiss Smith’s petition.

Hotopp argued the November mail-in votes were effectively voided because the law requires a panel of three election judges to scrutinize votes by mail. By Hotopp’s reasoning, voiding some 10,000 mail-in votes would flip Democrat Todd Martin’s win back to Donnelly, who lost by about 2,100 votes.

But Belt said the onus was on Hotopp to produce a specific number of disputed ballots that would turn the race, “and it’s not there.”

The case has been pending since about Thanksgiving, partly because the case was passed from judge to judge until Belt got it and partly because Smith and Hotopp repeatedly amended their complaint. At one point, they challenged the race for statehouse won by incumbent Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa), but that portion of the complaint was dropped.

Tom Collins

Tom Collins covers criminal justice in La Salle County.