New judge to hear case against AJ Freund’s caseworkers

Judge James Cowlin sites conflict with Carlos Acosta’s role on County Board

Wood stock — An out-of-county judge will be brought in to the McHenry County courthouse to preside over the cases of two caseworkers charged criminally in the death of a 5-year-old Crystal Lake boy who was killed by his parents in 2019.

Judge James Cowlin, who is serving as chief of the 22nd Judicial Circuit until his term ends Nov. 30, has replaced the now-retired Judge Robert Wilbrandt. On Dec. 1, Michael J. Chmiel will take over as the new chief judge.

Wilbrandt had been overseeing all matters related to the death of AJ Freund, including the criminal cases of his parents, JoAnn Cunningham and Andrew Freund.

Wilbrandt also had been presiding over the cases of Carlos Acosta and Andrew Polovin, employees with the Department of Children and Family Services. Acosta was assigned as AJ’s caseworker, and Polovin was Acosta’s supervisor.

Former DCFS case worker and current McHenry County Board member Carlos Acosta appears in court with Judge Robert Wilbrandt at the Michael J. Sullivan Judicial Center on Friday, March 26, 2021 in Woodstock.  Acosta was the DCFS case worker overseeing 5 year old AJ Freund prior to his murder by parents Andrew Freund and JoAnn Cunningham.

In a rare move, each have been charged criminally in the child’s death.

On Friday, Cowlin told attorneys for Acosta and Polovin that he had a conflict presiding over the cases because in his role as chief judge he goes before the McHenry County Board on budget issues and other matters, and Acosta is a County Board member.

Acosta, 56, of Woodstock, and Polovin, 49, of Island Lake, each are charged with two counts of endangering the life of a child and health of a minor, Class 3 felonies, and one count of reckless conduct, a Class 4 felony, related to their handling of AJ’s case.

If convicted on the most serious charges of child endangerment, a Class 3 felony, they could face between five and 10 years in prison.

Before Wilbrandt, Cunningham pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Freund also pleaded guilty before Wilbrandt, and he is serving a 30-year prison sentence.

Acosta’s and Polovin’s next court date is Aug. 30. Neither man was present at court Friday.