No appellate ruling yet on whether Joliet Township official with felony record can stay in office

Local Resident Karl Ferrell raises questions about the proposed Joliet Police Department Citizen Review Board on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, at Joliet City Hall in Joliet, Ill. Local activists asked to table a proposal for a citizens police review board in order to collect more community feedback.

An appellate court has yet to decide whether an elected Joliet Township official with a past felony record – who now is facing additional charges – can stay in office.

Last year, Joliet Township Trustee Karl Ferrell appealed Judge John Anderson’s decision to remove him off the township board to the 3rd District Appellate Court in Ottawa. Anderson ruled that Ferrell’s past felony record disqualifies him from township office.

As of Friday, no decision had been made by the appellate court. Ferrell’s attorney, John Partelow, said he had no idea why the court has not yet made a ruling.

“They put the appeal on fast track,” Partelow said.

Partelow appeared in Anderson’s courtroom Thursday for a status hearing on the matter. Anderson had noted during the hearing that the case still was up on appeal.

“Which is sort of perplexing,” Anderson said.

With nothing else left to do but wait, Ferrell’s case was given a new status date of July 20.

Ferrell also is facing new felony charges that accuse him of fraudulently obtaining Paycheck Protection Program loans totaling $39,623 in 2021 and fraudulently obtaining $11,203 in unemployment benefits in the same year.

On Jan. 19, a grand jury returned an indictment against Ferrell on 16 felony charges.

Those charges include theft, two counts of theft by deception, two counts of loan fraud, two counts of wire fraud, two counts of forgery, two counts of state benefits fraud and five counts of failure to file an income tax return.

The charges were the result of a U.S. Secret Service investigation. The federal agency has investigated many cases of fraud involving the Paycheck Protection Program, which was created during the COVID-19 pandemic to help struggling businesses make payroll.

On Thursday, attorneys with the Tomczak Law Group filed their appearance to represent Ferrell in the case. The law firm is owned by Jeff Tomczak, a prominent defense attorney who also was once the Republican Will County state’s attorney in the early 2000s.

Ferrell was in court Friday with his attorney, Patty Kalkanis, and he entered a plea of not guilty to the charges.

One of the issues in Ferrell’s appeal is the constitutionality of Illinois state law that forbids someone with a felony record from serving in township office.

In an appellate filing, Partelow argued that an Illinois citizen with a felony record can serve in a constitutionally created office – such as governor - after completing their sentence, and serve in a legislatively created municipal office after completing their sentence and receiving either a gubernatorial pardon or restoration of rights.

Yet those with a felony record can never serve in a legislatively created township office, Partelow said.

He contended that the distinction “has no rational basis” and violates Ferrell’s rights of equal protection under the U.S. and Illinois constitutions.

In response, Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Pyles argued that the Illinois Legislature makes decisions on the qualifications for legislatively created offices and made a “policy choice” of not allowing convicted felons from serving as township trustees.