CROWN POINT — The criminal misdemeanor case against St. John Town Manager Steve Kil for confiscating political signs during the town’s 2015 election will begin all over again in a new courtroom.
At a status hearing Thursday, Superior Court Judge Nicholas Schiralli granted the motion for a change of venue made by Kil’s attorney, William Padula. In making that motion, Padula cited an Indiana statute that states a defense attorney or prosecuting attorney can petition for a change of venue after a plea deal is rejected by the sitting judge.
In June, Schiralli rejected a plea that would have allowed Kil to avoid a criminal conviction, dismissing a Class A misdemeanor conversion charge pending against the defendant since December 2015.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Maryam Afshar said Thursday the state had no objection to the motion because of the statute. Schiralli ordered the court administrator be notified to assign the case to another judge.
Kil, who sat in the gallery during the brief proceedings, immediately left the courtroom after the judge’s decision.
Judge Julie Cantrell will now preside over the case.
The decision left the St. John residents who attended the hearing stunned and angry.
“Mr. Kil was videoed taking the signs. Our signs were always legal and never shown otherwise,” said Theresa Birlson, treasurer of the St. John Homeowners PAC. “This all happened at polling places, less than 12 hours before the election.”
The charges involve 100 political signs the St. John Homeowners political action committee put up around town calling for voters to fire Kil, Town Council President Michael Forbes and Councilman Mark Barenie.
St. John residents Joe Hero and Robert Pastore said they were driving around town on Nov. 2, 2015 – the day before the election – near Kolling Elementary School, 8801 Wicker Ave., and saw Kil removing political signs they had previously placed at that polling site.
They took photos and video of the incident. Indiana State Police investigated and the Lake County prosecutor’s office filed the misdemeanor charge in Lake Superior Court in December 2015.
“Over 30 people made statements to the prosecutor’s office. People wrote their own letters,” Birlson said after Thursday’s hearing. “If people don’t pay for their crimes, anyone can buy an election.”
Hero said John Corbett, who was running against Forbes in that election, lost by 85 votes.
“If the signs had flipped just 43 people, Mr. Forbes would have been out,” Hero said.