PRINCETON — The Bureau County Board has expressed its support of Coroner Janice Wamhoff after reviewing a family's complaint alleging Wamhoff mishandled their family member's death investigation.
At Tuesday's county board meeting, Chicago attorney Janine Hoft and two sisters of the late Leslie Holmes said Wamhoff was unprofessional in handling her coroner duties and should have recused herself from the case because Leslies Holmes was dating Wamhoff's son, Reese, at the time of her death last summer and because Leslie's body was found on Reese's Bureau County property. The Holmes family asked the county board to immediately remove Wamhoff from office and to adopt policies requiring the coroner to recuse herself/himself when conflicts of interest exist in a death case.
In bringing the matter before the county board, Law Committee Chairman Bob McCook said the family had earlier presented its complaint to the committee, and the committee had also gotten a written response from Wamhoff. The law committee had asked for direction from Bureau County State's Attorney Patrick Herrmann who said the coroner is a constitutional officer, and the committee and county board do not have disciplinary control over the coronet. The committee's unanimous recommendation to the county board was to take no action against the coroner, McCook said.
In giving additional information, McCook said board member Mike Kohr had contacted Steven Nonn, president of the Illinois Coroners and Medical Examiners Association, and Charlie Dastych, who worked for years in the DuPage County Coroner’s Office, about state standards for coroners. Both men agreed there is no state statute which would have compelled Wamhoff to recuse herself from the Holmes case. There is no code of ethics or standards in place, though a committee has been asked to work on establishing a code of ethics, McCook said.
Based on her years and experience as a nurse, board member Loretta Volker said she could see no evil action, but only "very careful and ethical behavior" on the part of the coroner. Law Committee member Mary Jane Marini said Wamhoff had come to the committee and made the committee aware of the issue from the very start.
However, board member Joe Bertetto said the board needed more time to review the information and recommended tabling any decision for another month. Until that evening, the only document which the whole board had seen was the Holmes' family complaint, but now the board had the coroner’s response and additional documents from the family to read, he said.
Board member Marc Wilt agreed, saying when somebody addresses the board and they start with a lawyer, it gives him the indication the case is not closed. It might be a little premature to take any kind of vote, he said.
In his comments, Kohr said the county board’s legal advice from the state’s attorney was the board does not have the legal authority to take any action against the coroner, and that even if they did, nothing had been proven.
“Essentially we’re asking to take an action we’ve been told we can’t take, against a violation that didn’t happen over a standard of ethics that doesn’t exist,” Kohr said.
Acting upon a motion made by Volker and seconded by Deb Feeney, the county board voted overwhelmingly, by voice vote, to take no action against Wamhoff.
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