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Cook County Attorney Scannell apologizes after conviction for sexual misconduct

Less than 24 hours after he was found guilty on two counts of fourth-degree sexual misconduct stemming from his relationship with a 17-year-old girl, Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell apologized to the girl and her family Saturday in a prepared statement emailed to the news media.

“I apologize to the young woman involved from the bottom of my being for hurting her in any way and to her family for the pain that I have caused them,” Scannell wrote, adding that the girl and her family “always treated (him) with kindness and respect.

“I apologize to my incredible wife and sons, our supportive families and friends, and the Cook County community for the trouble I have caused. I have done wrong, and I take full responsibility for those mistakes and the pain that resulted. I hope some of you can forgive me someday.”

The conviction came Friday from a Duluth jury of nine men and three women, following nine hours of deliberation over two days. Scannell, 48, was released without bail and is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 26.

Special prosecutor Tom Heffelfinger said the apology Scannell issued Saturday is inconsistent with the testimony he gave Wednesday, in that the statement refers to the remorse he feels for how he treated the alleged victim. Scannell testified that he had “thoroughly, utterly and evilly” betrayed the trust of the 17-year-old girl’s mother but did not expand his statement to include the girl herself when Heffelfinger asked if he had betrayed her trust in the same way.

“Mr. Scannell’s apology is ironic in light of the fact that during the trial he admitted to violating the trust of the victim’s mother but denied violating the trust of the victim herself,” Heffelfinger said in an interview Monday. “Nevertheless, it is my hope that Mr. Scannell’s apology will help heal the wounds that have been suffered by the victim, her family and also the broader Cook County community.”

Joe Tamburino, the attorney who defended Scannell, said he doesn’t feel the apology is inconsistent with his client’s testimony.

“I think it’s an evolution of thought,” he said.

“Once a trial is over, you have a chance to reflect on what has occurred and the pain you might have caused other people,” said Tamburino. “It’s an evolution of his thought, and he is truly sorry.”

According to Tamburino, who said he has not spoken with his client since Friday, it was Scannell’s decision to make a formal apology. Tamburino said the trial “took a lot out of (Scannell),” who, he said, is resting at home with his family.

“He wishes none of this had happened,” Tamburino said.

Still unresolved is Scannell’s future practicing law in Cook County.

Scannell has five months remaining on his term as county attorney, and it’s unclear whether any attempts will be made to remove him from office. He did not file for re-election.

Cook County Commissioner Garry Gamble said the county’s Board of Commissioners will address Scannell’s status at a special public board meeting Thursday.

The board is seeking legal counsel as to how it may proceed, Gamble said, and will hold off any action until a collective decision is reached. In Cook County, there isn’t a set protocol for unseating a public official such as Scannell, Gamble said.

Also in question is Scannell’s career in law altogether.

Martin Cole, director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, said the agency monitored the proceedings of Scannell’s case and will conduct a further review after the sentencing.

Felonies don’t always result in disbarment, Cole said, though Scannell’s behavior likely warrants punishment.

“I’m confident there will be some sort of disciplinary action,” he said.

Molly Hicken, Cook County’s assistant attorney, has been filling in for Scannell. Hicken, who testified during the trial that Scannell had discussed his relationship with the girl several times while at work, could not be reached for comment.

In most instances, the age of sexual consent in Minnesota is 16. But criminal charges still can be made if the alleged perpetrator was in a position of authority over the alleged victim.

Now 19, the woman with whom Scannell was convicted of using his position of authority to initiate a sexual relationship alleged that Scannell touched her breasts, abdomen, legs and buttocks in August 2012 and that she resisted his attempts to engage in sexual intercourse. She had known Scannell since she was 9, she testified, and saw him as a family friend and father figure.

Scannell admitted to kissing the girl and, on one occasion, inadvertently touching her breast.