Spokesman: Secretary of state personally blocked trooper Mitchell's license

News-DemocratMay 20, 2014 

Matt Mitchell in a BND file photo.

ZIA NIZAMI/BND

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has personally been blocking a former Illinois State Police trooper from getting his driver's license back, according to a spokesman for the office.

Now, the attorney for former trooper Matt Mitchell plans to take the battle to court.

Attorney J. Israel Slone withdrew his request on Mitchell's behalf for a scheduled appeal Tuesday in front of a Secretary of State's Office hearing officer.

"That's for me to know," Slone said when asked about the decision to cancel the appeal hearing. It would have been Mitchell's fifth attempt to get his license back after losing it in the aftermath the crash which killed two Collinsville sisters in 2007.

Slone said he asked for an administrative review hearing after the previous rejections because he said the hearing officer recommended Mitchell get his license back, only to have an unnamed, high-ranking Secretary of State's Office official overrule the decision.

Slone said he asked for an administrative review hearing to get the hearing officer's decision enforced -- or to at least find out who was blocking reinstatement, and why. A status conference is set for Thursday morning in Jefferson County Circuit Court in Mount Vernon.

"I'm going to push to have oral arguments on that pretty soon," Slone said.

Dave Druker, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office, said there is no mystery who overruled the hearing officer -- it was Secretary of State Jesse White himself.

"He does not feel at this time that the case has been made as to why Mr. Mitchell should get his license back," Druker said of the decision by White, a Democrat. "He has the final say and, as an elected official, it's his responsibility to make that decision."

Druker said there was no communication between the Secretary of State's Office and Slone before the attorney asked to have Tuesday's appeal hearing canceled.

Kim Schlau, mother of crash victims Jessica and Kelli Uhl, planned to attend the hearing Tuesday to argue against Mitchell getting his license back, according to family spokesman David Craig.

"It was part of the plea deal when Mr. Mitchell avoided prison that he be kept off the road," Craig said.

Mitchell was driving 126 mph, talking on his cellphone and typing into a dashboard-mounted computer when he lost control of his police cruiser in November 2007 east of O'Fallon, killing the two young women. He's tried unsuccessfully four times previously to get his license back.

Mitchell was sentenced in 2010 to 30 months of probation in relation to the crash.

Druker said White has made no statement about whether he plans to permanently deny Mitchell his license or what criteria he would have to meet to get it back. He acknowledged it was possible that a judge could order the Secretary of State's Office to return Mitchell's driving privileges.

"I'm sure that has happened before," Druker said. "But I can't remember any specific cases in which it did."

While he wouldn't speculate on the outcome of the administrative review hearing, Slone said he plans to schedule another appeal hearing in a month or two.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 239-2626.

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