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Jeff Terronez: Just Sorry He Got Caught PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 03 May 2011 11:53

Following Jeff Terronez’s resignation as Rock Island County state’s attorney and his guilty plea last week, I was waiting for the Quad Cities’ daily newspapers to forcefully and directly raise a simple question: Why didn’t he resign sooner?

More relevant at this point: Why didn’t the county’s Democratic leaders strongly encourage his resignation long before he agreed to a plea deal?

Alas, the closest the newspapers got was the Quad-City TimesApril 27 editorial: “Terronez ... has decimated the credibility of his office, his former colleagues, and every Democrat who stood by silently as this crime was covered up for at least six months. That’s how long Terronez dodged specific questions from us and others about this crime. ... If, as Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan claimed, police found only enough to charge him with providing the alcohol [to a minor], Terronez could have cleared that up with an honest answer in October.”

But the “honest answer” the Times said Terronez should have provided is far different from his resignation. And both the Times and Rock Island Argus/Moline Dispatch seem more concerned with getting full details of the Illinois State Police investigation.

“Rumors abound about the secret circumstances of Terronez’s crime,” the Times wrote. “That’s why we’re still pushing for full investigation disclosure.”

“On Tuesday [April 26], she [Madigan] provided sketchy details about what the extensive probe revealed,” the Argus/Dispatch wrote in its editorial. “But they were far too few to satisfy the many questions that remain. Rumors continue to fly and, without proof, we will not repeat them here. Instead, we will focus on the unanswered questions.

“Chief among them is whether Mr. Terronez provided alcohol more than once to the young woman who had been a witness in a case he prosecuted. What was the nature of the inappropriate relationship investigators say he had with the victim, and is there evidence of additional wrongdoing?”

The Argus/Dispatch then listed other questions, but the most telling was a simple “What else don’t we know?” The newspapers don’t like that they’ve been given incomplete information, and that the available details are far less damning than the rumors they’ve heard.

The Times said this episode taints prosecutions under Terronez’s watch, while the Argus/Dispatch wondered whether the state’s attorney received “special treatment at the hands of the tight-lipped state police who investigated the incident for at least eight months, or from the attorney general’s office.”

But both lines of questioning miss the most obvious issue, namely that Terronez’s resignation shouldn’t have waited for imminent prosecution. And if he was unwilling to step down, Rock Island County Democrats should have forced his hand. On April 20, the Times did say that “Terronez should step aside until this investigation is complete,” but the revelations since that editorial suggest he should have resigned, period.

Terronez reportedly purchased alcohol for a minor on August 15, and the incident was reported to East Moline police four days later. In October, WQAD reported that the state’s attorney was under investigation.

Here we get to the crucial issue. Terronez pleaded guilty, and he told reporters on April 25 that “I delivered alcohol to a minor; it’s that simple.” He also said resigning was “the right thing to do.”

So he doesn’t deny the charge, and the law isn’t vague on providing booze to people under legal drinking age. By his own admission, resignation was the appropriate action. And yet ... it took him eight months to do it. (At least he had the decency to face the media for his public shaming.)

In other words, this cannot be a matter of waiting until the justice system had run its course. There’s no gray area in the law, and no protestation of innocence.

The subtext here is therefore that Terronez believed resigning was “the right thing to do” only when it was apparent that he was nailed. The key isn’t that he didn’t provide an “honest answer” to media inquiries in October; it’s that his actions say he believed that what he did only merited resignation once he couldn’t escape punishment.

I see four possible explanations for Terronez’s behavior, and none of them is flattering to the former prosecutor or the people who supported and elected him in 2004 and 2008.

First, perhaps he didn’t understand the law that he was elected to enforce. In this scenario, the Illinois attorney general needed to explain to him that what he did was a crime.

Second, maybe he thought the law didn’t apply to him.

Third, it’s possible he clung to office to stash away money. (“I’ll be an unemployed lawyer for a while,” he reportedly said. And if his license to practice law is suspended by the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission, he’ll just be unemployed.)

Fourth, perhaps he thought his stature in the Rock Island Democratic organization would protect him from prosecution.

Madigan’s direct involvement in the plea deal and a press conference last week seemed designed to send a message to Democratic officials in the county. Terronez was, after all, a relatively small-fish target – a Rock Island County elected official – and his crime merited only two years’ probation and a $2,500 fine. Yet the state attorney general personally made an example of Terronez, implying that the Democratic stranglehold on Rock Island County politics doesn’t mean public officials can operate with impunity.

County Board Chair Jim Bohnsack should feel especially chastened. He likely didn’t do anything illegal in the Terronez affair, but he certainly didn’t do much right, either. And he continues to idiotically defend himself.

On April 26, he issued a press release emphasizing that “I had no personal knowledge of, nor did I play any role in, the investigation or subsequent charges that Mr. Terronez pled guilty to this morning.”

An April 29 Quad-CityTimes article said that “Bohnsack said he doesn’t recall ever asking for Terronez’s resignation, but he noted that the state’s attorney is an elected official, which limited his and the county board’s control over the situation. He rejected the idea that he could have done more to remove Terronez from office earlier.”

The article continued: “When Terronez first told Bohnsack [on October 22 that] he had made a mistake, he didn’t share details, and the chairman didn’t ask.” Surely the state’s attorney coming to him admitting a “mistake” deserves a few follow-up questions – however uncomfortable – to determine how that “mistake” might affect county business. Bohnsack could have started here: “Was it a personal mistake, or a professional mistake?” Given that it was both, the county-board chair should have then probed a little deeper.

But Bohnsack said his don’t-ask-don’t-tell attitude wasn’t just willful ignorance – an opportunity to tell the media six months later that he had no clue about the nature of the investigation. No, it was also a function of powerlessness. As the April 29 article stated: “Even if he had [questioned the state’s attorney], Bohnsack argues he wouldn’t have been able to force Terronez to resign.”

True enough technically speaking, but he can’t expect us to believe that the Rock Island Democratic party is so weak that it couldn’t have successfully pressured Terronez to resign. Bohnsack was simply unwilling to confront and deal with an obvious problem.

He wasn’t alone. Rock Island Democratic leaders could have avoided significant embarrassment by pushing Terronez out last year, with the added bonus of appearing aggressive in ensuring that county officials behave ethically. Instead, they look blind and ineffectual at best.

Terronez could have admitted his mistake and resigned in October (or earlier) and come off as genuinely remorseful for a human lapse in judgment. Instead, last week he sounded calculating, only sorry that he got busted.

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Geek
written by Paybacks are Heaven, May 06, 2011
They knew about it, all of it, long ago, yet it would be hearsay to say how I know. Sad, damaging to the Democrats, yet the transparency of cover-up and inability to "do the right thing" is what is so evident.

You can make you own judgement, for me, lack of transparency is the biggest issue to face.
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LHB
written by Larry Barnett, May 06, 2011
I think Mr. Ignatius did a creditable job in covering the facts and raising pertinent questions. I'll comment only on the fact that his "(sic)" after the word "pled" is totally out of place. The correct word for the past tense of plead IS "pled"; it is NOT "pleaded," as Mr. Ignatius' "sic" suggests he might think it is.
Jeff Ignatius
Actually ...
written by Jeff Ignatius, May 08, 2011
We're both wrong. "Pleaded" and "pled" are correct (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plead). I've fixed the article.
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Only one possible explanation
written by Bobaloo, May 14, 2011
Mr. Ignatius lists four possible reasons why Mr. Terronez decided not to resign as Rock Island County State's Attorney when the allegations of his misconduct came to light. I see only one: Because he thought he could get away with it. Plain and simple. Perhaps a few of Mr. Ignatius' explanations have some territrial relevance (e.g., thinking the Rock Island County Democrats could protect him, not enough money), but in the end, it all comes down to the simple human condition of yielding to temptation, then trying to cover up your own tracks with lies and bluffs when the media, county and state officials and the constituents demand answers (much like what we read about in 2 Samuel 12, with the story of David and Bathsheba -- the good king lies about an affair with the more desirable woman and impregnates her, kills her husband when the pregnancy is revealed, and then (after all that) lies about what happens until confronted with hard evidence contrary to his claims). Mr. Terronez probably saw something desirable about the girl with which he had the inappropriate relationship with, pursued it and continued once the girl agreed to enter into the relationship, then lied and did a "innocent me" act when confronted. As far as Mr. Bohnsack's failure to ask questions, yes, that's very incriminating of him; even if he were under oath in court, we would probably never really get a straight answer as to why he did not pursue the issue immediately; my only guess is he didn't want to upset Mr. Terronez or get into a big spat where it gets to a "he said-she said" situation.I think the point of the mainstream media (the QC Times, Argpatch, and the local TV stations) pressing for details is simple: A public official is involved, and taxpayers have a right to hold their elected officials accountable; in other words, this is more than simply, "Getting the lurid details out before the public to sell newspapers or to improve flagging TV ratings vs. the sorrid 'Two and a Half Men'.") And that the investigation should have been completed much faster, instead of taking six months. (As far as the "did he have sex with her" rumors go, all that's needed is a simple DNA test, and that could be subpoenaed.) But on the "faster" issue, isn't that another question that should be answered -- why did this whole investigation take six months, when it could have been wrapped up in far less time (like maybe, a week). And it could, should and must have taken place in court, with the particulars of the case under oath, just like the old inquests.The moment the girl's father or older brother -- or whomever -- saw the text message on her telephone from Mr. Terronez, a phone call immediately should have been placed with the Attorney General's office. Then, maybe the county board would have had no choice but to ask Mr. Terronez to at least go on leave pending the outcome of the investigation. Remember, innocent until proven guilty. Playing devil's advocate here: what if the investigation would have proven him completely innocent, and that the investigation were part of some scheme to have him removed, the rantings of a "disturbed girl," etc. It didn't turn out that way, but what if?
Sorry for the rant. I don't normally respond to editorials in your publication, but for some reason feel compelled to respond.
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By the way
written by Bobaloo, May 14, 2011
Is there a way to use html code in this message field? If I or someone have a longer message (as you can see by my post), it sure would help break up the paragraphs and make it easier to read. (The same question applies to the QC Times' message board.) Thanks!
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...
written by Brad V, May 14, 2011
When I first heard about the investigation and rumors that Terronez had some type of inappropriate relationship with the girl from the UT teacher case (can't remember how his name is spelled, don't care enough to do a search), I initially assumed it was some type of situation where the girls family invited Terronez to some type of family get-together after the trial and Terronez turned a blind eye when the girls family allowed her to consume alcohol at this get-together (maybe it was alcohol he brought with him?). But this whole story is pretty creepy, yet funny at the same time. Sounds to me that if he wasn't trying to bang the victim from that trial, he more than likely was trying to get with her 19 year-old friend. But even still, I get it if Terronez is just a dity old man trying to score some strange, but why this girl? He just sent another professional male in his late-30s to prison for 10 years for having sex with this girl. Obviously she can't keep her mouth shut....Then again, about 5 or 6 years ago a Rock Island Police Officer told me that you can get away with having sex with a 17 year-old (not sure if that's the age of consent, but I've never been in a situation where I needed to check for ID anyways)...I read some of the police reports released last week. I'm no Frank Luntz, but based off of the transcripts from Terronezs text messages (mainly his spelling and choice of dialogue) I'm guessing this entire incident is the result of a Mid-Life Crisis...
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Why did he do it?
written by Bobaloo, May 14, 2011
Before I go on, I do want to stress that Mr. Ignatius raised some very relevant questions regarding why Mr. Terronez's immediate resignation wasn't demanded. There were people who dropped the ball and should have asked harder questions when Mr. Terronez started talking to other county officials behind closed doors. But again, due to the seriousness of the allegations and the principle of "innocent until proven guilty," an immediate leave of absence, not a resignation, was appropriate. I don't know what Mr. Ignatius' opinion is about publishing the details of his alleged behavior (although he is welcome to share it), but I do know that the River Cities Reader -- along with the rest of the mainstream media and the general public -- would, could and should demand full disclosure if the man in trouble was a U.S. (or even state) sentaor or representative.As far as the point raised by Brad V. on why Mr. Terronez did this -- aside from "because he thought he could get away with it" -- I dunno. Perhaps Mr. Terronez:
* Was having a mid-life crisis, as Brad V. suggests.
* Perhaps he "never got the one he wanted" when he was college-aged (i.e., in his late teens/early 20s) and single and -- assuming he married -- had to settle for a wife that was less than what he was looking for, then would bail out once the young girl of his dreams all along came along. I read all sorts of letters in Annie's Mailbox and Dear Abby about older men re-connecting and subsequently having affairs with high school sweethearts and younger women they found desirable ... and I bet many of those affairs were because the husband no longer found the wife attractive or desirable, or she was never "the one he wanted" and that he felt compelled by overbearing friends and/or family to marry the poor, unfortunate, less-than-desirable woman to keep their social/familial standing.
* I highly doubt this one, but Aspergers? If this unlikely but possible scenario is true, even somewhat so, this might go along with Mr. Ignatius' suggestions that he didn't truly understand the law regarding providing alcohol to minors; or believe that particular law applied to him. This may raise the bigger point of what Mr. Terronez's social life was like, but that's another discussion for another time. However, if he did indeed have this or some similar non-autism spectrum disorder, it does make one wonder about how such a person could be elected to an office where you're sworn to defend the law, know it inside out, adhere to ethics, etc.
I just hope for the best for everyone involved -- in a strange way, even for Mr. Terronez. This whole situation breaches trust on so many levels, and it is going to take a long time for Rock Island County to shake itself from this tragic situation. Let's get the checks and balances back in, demand that our elected officials act approrpiately and move on.
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How?
written by Bigger Geek, May 19, 2011
How do we get the checks and balances back in? Seriously, no insult intended, truly looking for a solution. What will demanding do?

I would propose solutions, have already, and am ready to move on...
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Jerk
written by Katekatekate, April 23, 2012
This guy is a piece of sh*t. I hope he burns in hell for being a sleazy creep and if his wife stays with him after he cheated with underage girls (he was in the hotel room for 5 hr what do you think they did?) she's just as stupid as him!

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