Attorney says he passed along info on Mitchell case

News-DemocratFebruary 13, 2011 

Former Illinois Assistant Attorney General Bill Schneider said he passed along all necessary information regarding the workers' compensation case involving former Illinois State Trooper Matt Mitchell, who pleaded guilty to reckless homicide in connection with a high-speed crash that killed two Collinsville sisters.

Schneider, who represented the state, wrote Saturday in an e-mail to the News-Democrat that he informed his supervisor of "all unusual aspects of the Matt Mitchell work comp case."

"I believed that I fulfilled my obligations and passed along all necessary information to my direct supervisor," Schneider wrote.

But Ann Spillane, chief of staff for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, maintained that after searching their e-mails, they have found no evidence that Schneider ever told his supervisors about workers' compensation arbitrator Jennifer Teague's attempts to have the Mitchell hearing so reporters would not attend.

"There is absolutely no record that Mr. Schneider alerted his supervisors to the e-mails from arbitrator Teague and Mitchell's attorney Kerry O'Sullivan discussing their desire to prevent press coverage of this hearing," Spillane said.

O'Sullivan, in a November reply to Teague with a copy to Schneider, suggested an "off-docket trial of this matter to prevent or reduce media attention."

The trial was originally scheduled for Dec. 20 in Belleville. Schneider did notify his supervisor Greg Riddle that the hearing was changed to Dec. 17 in Collinsville, according to e-mails released Saturday by the Attorney General's office.

"I informed my supervisor of all unusual aspects of the Matt Mitchell work comp case," stated Schneider, who left the office in December and now works for Illinois Senate Republicans.

But Spillane responded: "As I have stated, it is completely unacceptable for an attorney to participate in an effort to avoid press coverage of a public hearing and for an assistant attorney general to fail to alert his supervisors of this conduct by his opposing counsel and the arbitrator."

Schneider did not answer specifically whether he told Riddle that Teague was trying to avoid press coverage.

When Teague tried to broker a settlement between the state and Mitchell in October, Schneider alerted his supervisors.

"I forwarded an e-mail from arbitrator Teague to my supervisor in which she suggested a pre-judicial ruling in petitioner's favor along with the comment that the state could face penalties for not settling," Schneider said.

Riddle forwarded to his supervisors and the Attorney General's ethics officer in less than 10 minutes, stating: "Please see arbitrator Teague's response to petitioner's attorney. Again, highly inappropriate."

"I am not really sure the reason for (the state's) denial of the claim given the stipulation made during the Court of Claims hearing. The state is opening itself up to penalties and a very public hearing," Teague wrote to Schneider and O'Sullivan.

The Attorney General's office defended a Court of Claims suit filed by the family of Kelli and Jessica Uhl, who were killed when Mitchell's squad car slammed into their Mazda on Interstate 64 in 2007. In that suit, the attorney general stipulated that Mitchell was acting in his capacity as a state trooper when the crash occurred.

But Schneider argued during the workers' compensation case that Mitchell was not entitled to benefits under the workers' compensation statute.

Natalie Bauer, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, stated Friday that she was concerned about the lack of action by the commission regarding Teague. She also expressed concern about Teague's "ability to be fair" when the state defended a claim before Teague.

Earlier this month, Springfield lawyer John R. Simpson was appointed to oversee a probe of the workers' compensation system.

"The special counsel investigation by the Department of Insurance, authorized by Gov. Quinn, continues to investigate the troubling allegations arising from the workers' compensation program," said Mica Matsoff, Quinn's spokeswoman.

Editors note: Because of commenting abuses by some readers on past stories involving this case, commenting has been removed from it.

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 239-2570. Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at gpawlaczyk@bnd.com or 239-2625.