6 candidates on primary ballot for Lake Co. state's atty

March 8, 2012 2:33:23 PM PST
In the March 20th Illinois primary, the battle for state's attorney in Lake County, north of Chicago, is one of the down-ballot races attracting a lot of attention.

Six candidates are chasing the major parties' nominations to take over a troubled prosecution office.

For the first time since 1968, an incumbent is not running. Michael Waller announced last summer he wouldn't run for re-election as Lake County state's attorney, a position he's held for 22 years. His move followed murder investigations involving DNA evidence in the cases of Juan Rivera and Jerry Hobbs. Each was convicted of murder involving child victims but the verdicts were tossed out when suppressed or mishandled DNA evidence surfaced. And each of the candidates say they are the right person to restore faith in Lake County justice.

Three Democrats and three Republicans are running. Each group has a candidate that is a prosecutor, was a prosecutor or has worked primarily in private practice.

There's broad agreement that the judicial mistakes of the past need to be addressed with greater oversight.

"What I have proposed is a conviction integrity unit," said Democratic candidate Chris Kennedy.

"I have proposed a conviction integrity panel," said Republican candidate Bryan Winter.

"We are going to implement a post-conviction review board," said Republican candidate Louise Hayes.

"You have to have a panel and bring in some outside experience," said Republican candidate Mike Nerheim.

"I understand the importance of DNA and what role it plays," said Democratic candidate Reginald C. Mathews.

So how to choose? All say experience counts. Republican Mike Nerheim and Democrat Chris Kennedy are both former assistant state's attorneys.

"When I was a prosecutor I've had cases where I had to dismiss the cases because I felt there was not enough evidence to pursue, and that is every bit the job of a prosecutor as pursuing cases," said Nerheim.

"It is critically important to get high-profile cases right and when there is DNA in a case we need to test it and we need to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if we have to reconsider whether we had it right," said Kennedy.

Republican Louise Hayes has worked for 20 years in the office that she wants now wants to lead. Democrat Reginald C. Mathews has 13 years in the office.

"I think it is very apparent when you are in the office what things are not working and where you are going to go to fix those and who is going to be accountable for what," said Hayes. "So it is not going to be business as usual in this office."

"I view myself as a crime fighter," said Matthews. "Every day I come to work hard, I work long hours not because I have to but because I know the people are counting on myself and this office to make sure we protect them to make sure we serve them."

Republican Bryan Winter is counsel for the village of Gurnee and unlike the others has run organizations with budgets akin to the state's attorney $13 million. But he hasn't worked there.

"I see that as a positive to have someone from outside that has a very diverse legal background both in the areas of civil law, criminal law and municipal law to be the next state's attorney," said Winter.

Sixth candidate Karen Boyd Williams did not return ABC7's calls seeking an interview.

Each candidate we spoke to figures it will take $100,000 to win their primary and the general election.