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Duchnowski: Curious details in nude photographs lawsuit

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014 11:17 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 17, 2014 10:59 a.m. CDT

It probably wasn’t fun to be Reema Bajaj on May 20.

That day, she was served an ethics complaint that threatened her law license for allegedly working as a prostitute under the name Nikita and lying to state legal regulators about it.

That day, she also filed a lawsuit against former DeKalb County State’s Attorney Clay Campbell and her former defense attorney Tim Johnson, claiming the pair showed or gave other local attorneys nude photographs that were part of the criminal investigation into her alleged prostitution. The lawsuit claimed, among other things, that the thought of these men doing that – in the middle of the DeKalb County courthouse, nonetheless – caused her to break out in hives, vomit and lose sleep.

Bajaj dropped the lawsuit last week, and won’t have the option to refile it. But digging a little deeper into the court file suggests the lawsuit might be about more than public embarrassment and an unraveling career. People who might have been working behind the scenes had ample reason to dislike Campbell.

The original lawsuit didn’t name the people who allegedly saw or received these nude photographs around June 1, 2011, but when prompted through the legal process by an attorney for Campbell and Johnson, Bajaj’s attorney named two people in court records who allegedly saw the nude photographs.

They were former DeKalb County Public Defender Regina Harris and Sean Smith, who Campbell defeated in the 2012 Republican primary for state’s attorney.

The lawsuit claimed Johnson showed Smith the photographs in the lawyers’ lounge about the same day Campbell passed out copies to multiple attorneys, including Harris, outside a courtroom.

William Hotopp, an attorney for Johnson and Campbell, said his clients never had copies of the photographs. Instead, one of Campbell’s assistants handled the discovery in the case, Hotopp said. Bajaj hired a different defense lawyer June 6, 2011, and that defense attorney received copies of the photographs from the prosecutor June 15, 2011, Hotopp said. Hotopp, Campbell and Johnson are partners in a law firm.

Smith, at one time, was partners in a law firm with Riley Oncken, a Republican DeKalb County Board member who so far has been successful in keeping Campbell from running against him in the primary. Oncken objected to Campbell’s candidate petitions based on the outdated address listed on his voter’s registration. The DeKalb County Election Board and DeKalb County Judge William Brady have sided with Oncken.

Harris, when she was public defender, came under fire in Campbell’s evaluation of the county’s drug court because a drug court graduate was charged with heroin possession in Chicago while driving Harris’ car. Harris left the public defender’s office in June 2012 to start her own practice, but Campbell’s drug court evaluation was discussed in local media throughout much of the year.

In July 2012, Harris told the Daily Chronicle she loaned the woman her car in March 2012 because she believed in the woman and trusted her. Harris said she told DeKalb County judges about the woman’s arrest and characterized loaning her the car as “an error in judgment.”

Most of the parties have moved on with their lives: Campbell returned to his career as a defense attorney. Harris is in private practice in a firm with Smith and his wife, Laurel Wykes Smith. On Tuesday, Harris declined to discuss Bajaj’s lawsuit or the allegations in it, and Smith did not return a call for comment.

Bajaj is on a different path, though. She is working as an office manager and dropped the lawsuit, according to her attorney, to avoid dredging up painful memories. She accepted a misdemeanor plea agreement in the prostitution case and is serving two years of court supervision, which means a conviction won’t go on her record if she successfully completes the term.

In the ethics case, Bajaj is waiting to see if Supreme Court justices approve a deal in which her law license will be suspended for three years. They are expected to consider it this month.

One might wonder how Bajaj got the idea Campbell and Johnson did something as improper as showing others those photographs, when the idea arose, and what motivations were behind it.

• Jillian Duchnowski is the Daily Chronicle’s news editor. Reach her at 815-756-4841, ext. 2221, or email jduchnowski@shawmedia.com.

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