Judge allows public defender off case

Judge allows public defender off case

URBANA — Citing "irreconcilable differences," a Champaign County public defender persuaded a judge Thursday to let her out of representing a St. Joseph man criminally charged almost four years ago with stealing from a now-deceased elderly disabled man while he was living.

First Assistant Public Defender Lindsey Yanchus told Judge Roger Webber that she "did not take lightly" her request to get out of defending Jaimes Royer, 49, on charges that he financially exploited and stole more than $500,000 from a Champaign man for whom he acted as power-of-attorney.

"We disagree on almost every aspect of this case. He refuses to accept the most basic assertions of the law," said Yanchus, who told the judge this was the first time in her 10 years as a public defender that she had asked to withdraw from representing a difficult client.

After questioning Royer, who briefly represented himself prior to Yanchus' appointment about 14 months ago, and allowing Yanchus and Royer to meet for about 20 minutes with Yanchus' boss, Public Defender Janie Miller, Webber reluctantly granted Yanchus' request.

Assistant Illinois Attorney General Stephen Swofford, who has been prosecuting Royer since the charges were filed in September 2015, made clear he objected to another continuance. However, he also told the judge he didn't want to give Royer any ammunition for an "ineffective assistance of counsel" appeal should he be convicted.

Conviction on the theft charges, which allege Royer stole more than $500,000 from the late John Swanberg of Champaign, carry a mandatory prison term of between four and 15 years.

The financial exploitation charges allege that Royer, while acting as power of attorney for Mr. Swanberg between September 2010 and July 2013, while Mr. Swanberg was in the Champaign County Nursing Home, used his position of trust to illegally obtain the retired science teacher's money.

Webber appointed Champaign attorney Matt Lee, an attorney on retainer with the county to handle conflict cases, to represent Royer.

In addition to not being able to work with her client, Yanchus told the judge she wasn't convinced that he met the income guidelines for a court-appointed attorney.

Under questioning by Webber about his assets, Royer said he is self-employed as owner of Benchmark Computers in Urbana — he and Mr. Swanberg met through their mutual interest in computers — and that the last income tax return he filed in 2016 put his adjusted gross income at less than $20,000.

Royer said he has no other income outside his business, has about $10,000 in a business bank account and owns two 2009 vehicles worth about $2,500 each, but no real estate. Royer lives with his girlfriend in a house that Yanchus said is worth more than $204,000.

Royer posted $15,000 cash as bond to be released from jail shortly after his arrest, but it's unclear if his previous attorneys made claims to that money. Royer told Webber he hadn't received any bills recently from James Dedman or Cherie Kesler, the Savoy attorneys who initially represented him, and didn't know what, if any balance, he owed them.Webber warned Royer that he may have to repay the county up to $5,000 for Lee's services.Lee will be Royer's fourth lawyer. His appointment means that the trial that had been set for April 29 is now off. Webber set the case for next week, so Lee and Swofford can set up a new timetable for the case that Swofford described as having "complex issues."

Webber had summoned a special pool of 100 jurors for the trial because juries in Champaign County normally serve for only one week at a time and Swofford said the trial could take at least two weeks.

He based that on "six to eight bankers' boxes" of documents he has amassed and the number of experts who analyzed them that he plans to call.

It's likely it will take Lee months to get through all those materials.

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