No longer a judge, Matthew Coghlan contends two exonerees have no case against him

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Former Judge Matthew Coghlan

Former Cook County Circuit Judge Matthew Coghlan is asking that he be dropped as a defendant in a pending lawsuit, contending in court papers that evidence establishes that he was not present for an interrogation in which an informant allegedly was encouraged by a detective to falsely accuse two men of murder.

His request, filed earlier this month in the U.S. District Court, is in connection with two pending lawsuits by two men who were exonerated of a 1993 murder and now claim that Coghlan, back when he was a Cook County assistant state’s attorney, along with another former prosecutor were present as detectives met with a robbery suspect named Francisco Vicente June 2, 1993, and convinced him to falsely implicate them.

Armando Serrano and Jose Montanez spent 23 years in prison before they were exonerated.

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The lawsuit was one of several controversies involving Coghlan that contributed in 2018 to his becoming the first Cook County Circuit judge in 28 years to lose a retention race.

Coghlan and John Dillon, in separate motions, contend they did nothing wrong and should not be subjected to a lawsuit. Coghlan contends his involvement in the case began after Serrano and Montanez were indicted, so any actions he took would have been as prosecutor and not as investigator.

That distinction is important: Prosecutors enjoy immunity from lawsuits for their work prosecuting the case.

“Coghlan was neither present at any June 2, 1993 meetings, nor even aware of, let alone involved in, the case until over a month later,” his lawyer wrote in legal papers.

Serrano’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, said in an interview on Monday that she remained confident in the allegation byVicente, the robbery suspect who first accused Serrano and Montanez, that the prosecutors were present that day and helped devise a story that framed the two men.  “There is no great legal issue here,” she said. “The issue is merely a factual dispute: Will the jury believe” Vicente or not?

The “case against Coghlan has been fatally flawed from the start,” states Coghlan’s motion to be dismissed from the case, “and there is nothing about Vicente’s testimony that breathes life into those claims.”

Vicente contended that now-disgraced former Chicago Police Department detective Reynaldo Guevara encouraged him to falsely contend that the Serrano, Montanez, and a third man in the murder of Vargas as Coghlan and Dillon looked on.

Serrano and Montanez both were issued certificates of innocence once they were exonerated, after which the two filed lawsuits against the police detectives and the former prosecutors, contending they had jointly conspired to frame the two.

The lawsuit against Coghlan was one of several controversies raised during Coghlan’s effort to win another six-year term on the bench. In addition to the lawsuit, Injustice Watch reported that Coghlan had a number of other issues: He issued harsh sentences to black defendants in a series of marijuana cases, while giving apparent lenient treatment to police accused of misconduct.

Coghlan also, in one case, refused to grant a hearing for a defendant on whether he was convicted as a result of a coerced confession, even after the appellate court had directed him to do so. When the case went back up again, the appeals court wrote harshly of his failure to carry out the hearing they had directed.