Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013, 3:06 pm
Editorial: A proper punishment?
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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus
We don't blame former Rock Island County state's attorney Jeff Terronez for fighting to get his law license back, but we hope his pleas and those of well-placed friends fall on deaf ears among those who will decide his fate.
Indeed, we urge the new Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission panel which last week heard arguments in the case not to let sympathy sway its decision in the case against this one-time Q-C political rising star who broke the law and abused both the trust of a minor under his protection and the citizens who elected him as their county's chief law enforcement officer.
For his transgressions, we continue to believe he should lose his license to practice law for a very long time, maybe even forever. In fact, that's what we anticipated would follow a lenient plea deal which allowed him to plead guilty to a lone misdemeanor count of supplying alcohol to a minor in exchange for resigning, giving up his pension and promising not to run for office.
Indeed, if the punishment first prescribed by the ARDC stands, it seems much too lenient, given the public record of the investigation into Mr. Terronez's relationship with the underaged victim at the center of the case involving former United Township High School teacher Jason VanHoutte. Mr. Van Houtte sits in prison for his sexual encounter with the minor when she was a student.
This case is not about Mr. Terronez's competence in office; that's what elections are for. It is about a serious violation of the law and betrayal of the public trust, so count us among those who were dismayed when that first ARDC panel decided back in August the penance for flouting the law Mr. Terronez was sworn to uphold would be measured not in decades or years, but months;14, in fact, would have been the sum total of the two-year suspension panelists recommended in August when time already served was included. As the appeals process drags on, the months will continue to dwindle unless the Illinois Supreme Court agrees to tougher sanctions.
We salute ARDC administrator Jerome Larkin's office for continuing to push for them. "In the administrator's view, this a disbarment case, not a suspension," said the office's Steve Splitt, who argued before the panel Friday. It's hard to disagree with Mr. Splitt's conclusion that, Mr. Terronez "was in a position of trust and authority as to this girl." And the ARDC should not believe for a moment that, as Mr. Terronez contends, his authority over her instantly disappeared at the completion of the VanHoutte case.
Additionally, we believe it would be difficult, if not impossible, for any adult to defend the kinds of text messages exchanged between Mr. Terronez and a minor, even if she were not a victim of a crime.
There is no clue yet as to what this second appeals panel will recommend. It has up to three months to reach a conclusion. Once it does, his fate will rest in the hands of the Illinois Supreme Court.
Let us hope that when the high court makes its decision, it will bring justice, not only for the victim, but for the citizens of Rock Island County.