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Judge sets tough rules
By Stacy St.Clair | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/28/2007

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Cook County Judge Vincent Michael Gaughan was a supervisor in the public defender's office before being appointed to the bench 16 years ago.

Now, he is presiding over both Juan Luna's and James Degorski's separate trials at the Cook County Criminal Courts building on Chicago's West Side.

Those aren't the only high-profile cases assigned to Courtroom 500. Grammy-award winning R&B superstar R. Kelly faces child pornography charges in Gaughan's courtroom.

The upcoming media-intensive trials spurred a number of unusual rules Gaughan is imposing, inspired in part by the recent trial of pop star Michael Jackson on child molestation charges in California.

No cell phones, personal digital assistants, briefcases, purses or large coats will be allowed, even if they are turned off or set to vibrate. In addition to the regular screening required to enter the criminal courthouse, Gaughan is asking for extra security outside his courtroom.

Despite opposition from attorneys on both sides, Gaughan said he will hold testimony in the Luna trial from noon until 8 p.m.

Gaughan, 65, last ran to retain his seat in Cook County in 2004, when both the Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Council of Lawyers recommended him for retention.

He hasn't always received a good rating. When Gaughan was up for retention in November 1998, the Chicago Council of Lawyers found him not qualified.

The council praised his legal ability, noting "his fairness and integrity are unquestioned."

"Too many lawyers find his temperament to be erratic and occasionally unacceptable," the report states.

Initially, Cook County Judge Joseph Urso, the presiding judge at the Rolling Meadows courthouse, was assigned the Luna and Degorski cases. Degorski's attorneys exercised their right for a new trial judge early on in the case, and Gaughan was selected randomly.

Though Gaughan frequently asked attorneys to keep the Luna case moving along, he fell from a ladder in July, which may have delayed the trial several months.

- Kara Spak

The victims

Lynn Ehlenfeldt - Lynn Ehlenfeldt, 49, a former saleswoman, worked long hours at the Brown's Chicken restaurant she owned with her husband. The couple had three daughters.

Marcus Nellsen - Marcus Nellsen, 31, of Palatine had worked at the Brown's Chicken & Pasta for about a month before he died. A Navy veteran and the father of a daughter, he received a full military burial with a 21-gun salute.

Michael Castro - Michael Castro was a 16-year-old junior at Palatine High School working at the restaurant through a school program. Castro played piano, was known as an outgoing and popular student and was saving his money to buy a stereo for his pickup truck.

Richard Ehlenfeldt - Richard Ehlenfeldt, 50, used the family's savings to buy the Brown's Chicken franchise with his wife after he was laid off from a cable television company. Originally from Wisconsin, he once worked as a top aide to Wisconsin Gov. Martin Schreiber.

Rico Solis - Rico Solis was a 17-year-old Palatine High School sophomore who moved from the Philippines to the United States eight months before he died.

Guadalupe Maldanado - A 47-year-old immigrant from Mexico, Maldanado was hired at the Brown's restaurant only 15 days before he was murdered. At the time of his death, he and his wife had three young sons ages 5, 10 and 13.

Thomas Mennes - Thomas Mennes, 32, rode his bike to his job at Brown's from the Palatine home he shared with his twin brother, Jerry. An outdoorsman, Mennes enjoyed fishing and boating.