I am a proud Illinois College graduate. I earned a B.A. from Illinois College in 1999 and then went on to earn my Juris Doctorate from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 2002.
I have been a prosecutor my entire legal career. I began working in the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s Office in the traffic and misdemeanor division in 2002. As part of that division I tried countless bench and jury trials and spent years learning the law, court procedure, and rules of evidence. After three years I became Chief of the Traffic and Misdemeanor Division, and in addition to maintaining my case load I supervised 6 other prosecutors. I was then promoted to the felony division where I began prosecuting mainly financial and property crimes. After a year or so prosecuting those types of cases I was promoted to Chief of the Drug Prosecution Unit. In that roll I handled major drug cases, had many successful jury trials and became an expert on search and seizure law. I was then named Chief of the Gang Prosecution Unit and spent years prosecuting the most violent gang-related felonies that occurred in Sangamon County. I spent my last several years at the Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s Office prosecuting major violent felonies including first degree murder cases, violent weapon offenses, and major drug cases. There are many cases that I am proud to have handled throughout my 14 years as a prosecutor, but the murder cases are certainly the ones that stand out most in my memory given the complexity of the legal work and the emotion involved.
On January 1, 2016, I was appointed State’s Attorney of Morgan County and picked up where I left off in Sangamon County. Since January, our office has secured convictions on many serious felony cases and has tried multiple felony jury trials. Just last month, I successfully tried a murder case, ensuring that a defendant who gunned down an unarmed man in the city of Jacksonville was brought to justice. Based on the work I have done both here and in Sangamon County, the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police unanimously voted to endorse my candidacy to remain the Morgan County State’s Attorney. I am very proud of the work these law enforcement officials perform on a daily basis and very grateful to have their endorsement.
Personal Stuff: Wife, Kids, Dogs, Hobbies!
I moved back to the Jacksonville earlier this year with my wife Lauren. We are raising our son Archer here and have purchased a home just down the road from my alma mater, Illinois College. It is great to be back in Morgan County. The people of this community make it a wonderful place to live. We enjoy spending our weekends attending local football games and other community events. It was as a student at Illinois College that I learned my love for this community and for giving back to this community. Since moving back, I have spent many hours volunteering for different organizations including the Crimson Pride Booster Organization, Routt and Our Saviour, the Jacksonville Art Association and the Murrayville United Methodist Church. Morgan County is a place you can immerse yourself in the community and my family and I are grateful for the opportunity to do so.
What experience do you have to be the Morgan County States Attorney?
I am a prosecutor. I am a proven prosecutor. I went to law school to become a prosecutor and have never had any other job as an attorney. I have been a prosecutor for the past 14 years and have been the Morgan County State’s Attorney for the last 9 months. I have handled every type of case you can face as a prosecutor. My experience ranges from trying speeding tickets to successfully trying first degree murder cases and everything in between. I have been a prosecutor my entire career. I am the only prosecutor running and the only candidate with jury trial experience.
Being the State’s Attorney is not something one can learn overnight. It takes years of successfully trying cases, becoming familiar with the rules of evidence, and knowing both criminal and civil procedure. In court, there is no time to look up the law or to figure out what the proper sentencing range is for any given charge. You have to have certain things committed to memory and skills developed over long periods of time. In order to be a successful State’s Attorney, you need courtroom experience, preferably as a prosecutor, and you have to have a working knowledge of the subject matter that you handle every day.
The job of the Morgan County State’s Attorney is to protect the citizens of Morgan County. Being a prosecutor requires maturity, thoughtfulness, and patience. A prosecutor needs to look at facts, evidence, and law. In life, everyone comes to the table with their own ideologies and biases, but a prosecutor needs to put his or her own opinions and politics aside and look at each case presented with a discerning eye. Making a decision to refrain from prosecution can be equally as important as the decision to prosecute. The People of Illinois have granted their State’s Attorneys significant power and that power cannot, and must not, be used for advancing personal agendas. A prosecutor has to know the difference between media sound bites and the law. He or she must know when a case is ready for and deserving of prosecution. In my 14 years as a prosecutor, I have aided investigations in hundreds of cases. Many cases are complex and have required looking at evidence acquired by law enforcement officers and directing officers to conduct additional investigation before making a decision to prosecute. When justice is best served through patience and restraint, I exercise patience and restraint. When a case warrants prosecution, I have a proven track record of passionately, diligently, and competently litigating cases.
What issues do you believe face Morgan County at this time and how are you able to address these needs:
Morgan County is a great community. It is a safe place to live, work, and raise a family. That is one of the reasons my family and I chose to move back here. Like every community, it faces challenges from time to time. When I first took over as State’s Attorney, there was a rash of meth production cases. Due to our aggressive prosecution of those types of cases and the work of law enforcement, meth manufacturing in our area has decreased. The attorneys in my office and I have the experience necessary to keep Morgan County safe. There are violent people who attempt to commit crimes over and over again in our community. We aggressively prosecute those individuals. I have the experience necessary to accomplish that task.
How are budget cuts affecting the probation department of this community and what impact will that have on your ability for defendants to successfully complete probation and or supervision?
Morgan County has a history of living within its means, accounting for every dollar, and spending tax payer money wisely. This is why Morgan County is in a sound financial position today. Each department has been asked to do more with less in the past few years and the probation department is no exception. The men and women of this department, led by Todd Dillard, do a tremendous job with ever shrinking resources. The staff of the Morgan County Probation Department is made up of bright, diligent, hard working individuals. Because of the caliber of the staff, there has been no discernible decrease in the quality of work that I see come out of the Probation Department. Since becoming the Morgan County State’s Attorney, we have dramatically increased participation in our drug court which is run in part by the probation department. Despite the increased workload, the department continues to excel. Through aggressive prosecution and alternative programs such as drug court, we have seen a decrease in recidivism which is one of the main goals of our office. We strive to cut down on “return customers” and have been successful in our efforts thus far.
What type of criteria would you apply before recusing yourself from a case?
There are widely accepted ethical guidelines that every prosecutor should follow. These guidelines include: a) a prosecutor should excuse himself from the investigation or prosecution of any former client involving or substantially related to the subject matter of the former representation, b) a prosecutor should excuse himself from the investigation or prosecution of any matter where information known to the prosecutor by virtue of a prior representation and subject to the attorney-client privilege would be pertinent to the criminal matter, c) a prosecutor should excuse himself from the investigation and prosecution of any person who is related to, or represented by a lawyer related to, the prosecutor as a parent, child, sibling, spouse, or who has a significant financial relationship with the prosecutor, and d) a prosecutor should excuse himself from any investigation, prosecution, or other matter where personal interests of the prosecutor would cause a fair-minded, objective observer to conclude that the prosecutor’s neutrality, judgment, or ability to administer the law in an objective manner may be compromised.
I would use the above criteria as guidelines to decide whether I should recuse from any case. Given that I have been a prosecutor my entire career, I would not have any conflict with a former client as outlined in a and b. Although a little ornery, my 13 week old son Archie has yet to commit any crimes and based on the above criteria, there are very few cases in which I would need to recuse myself, which ultimately saves tax payer money. In a small, tight-knit community, there are more situations where the prosecutor is acquainted with witnesses, attorneys, jurors, and even the defendant. This can lead to uncomfortable situations, but being uncomfortable is not a factor. When I encounter a situation that gives me pause, I go back and apply the standards to the situation.
What sentencing policies do you support to reduce incarceration rates in the state, yet ensure an adequate level of public safety is maintained?
It is the policy of my office to preserve public safety, reduce crime, and make the most effective use of incarceration. One of our main goals is to reduce recidivism. There are people in our community who attempt to commit violent crimes over and over again. We aggressively prosecute these types of individuals and remove them from our society for as long as possible. There are also members of our community who stub their toes and get tripped up in the justice system. Those individuals we try to get in and out of the system as quickly as possible with the end goal of ensuring that they remain productive members of society.
There are many laws that regulate sentencing. Certain crimes, mainly violent offenses, are not eligible for probation and therefore the only possible sentence is incarceration. For all other crimes, by statute, the presumed sentence is probation. 730 ILCS 5/5-6-1 reads, “Except where specifically prohibited by other provisions of this Code, the court shall impose a sentence of probation or conditional discharge upon an offender unless, having regard to the nature and circumstance of the offense, and to the history, character and condition of the offender, the court is of the opinion that: 1) his imprisonment or periodic imprisonment is necessary for the protection of the public; or 2) probation or conditional discharge would deprecate the seriousness of the offender’s conduct and would be inconsistent with the ends of justice; or 3) a combination of imprisonment with concurrent or consecutive probation with an offender has been admitted into a drug court program…” As the State’s Attorney, the main factors my office takes into consideration when recommending a sentence are the nature of the offense, the strength of the case, and the defendant’s criminal history.
One accomplishment I am particularly proud of is that since taking over as State’s Attorney, our drug court has been expanded by 500%. Drug court is a specialized court that defers incarceration of addicts and replaces it with intense drug addiction treatment. This process has been widely acclaimed for reducing criminality and our drug court has been very effective at reducing both recidivism and incarceration numbers. Drug court is open to the public and I would encourage anyone to come to the courthouse on Tuesdays at 11:00 am to see this program in action. It truly is an amazing and encouraging experience.
What felony offenses do you support reducing to misdemeanor offenses under Illinois Criminal Statutes?
My office has no policy that automatically reduces any offense. When resolving each case, I consider the nature of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. There is no set formula to prosecuting and we take each case on a case by case basis.
Do you support legalization of recreational marijuana?
The State’s Attorney does not set state-wide law or policy. I will continue to enforce laws as they are written. Recently a bill was passed that changed possession of small amounts of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a civil law violation. Our office will prosecute those cases, as we do every case, in accordance with the governing statute. Throughout my 14 years as a prosecutor, I have seen excessive marijuana use break down families and hinder individuals’ ability to be productive members of society. However, we are all aware many states have recently enacted laws decreasing or eliminating penalties in marijuana cases. As mentioned above, our specialized Drug Court has been a positive in the lives of many individuals who would otherwise be swept up in, and stigmatized by, the traditional prosecutorial system.
Do you support the use of body cameras by law enforcement officers and if so, what protection would you put in place to balance the public’s need to see the video versus the integrity of an investigation and privacy of victims?
I am 100% in favor of increased use of body cameras by law enforcement officers. Here in Morgan County, we are served by outstanding men and women in uniform. Our law enforcement officers are professional, courteous, diligent individuals. If an incident arises where an officer is accused of misconduct, and it is unfounded, body camera footage could exonerate that individual. On the flip side, if there is any evidence of police misconduct, that footage could help with our office’s prosecution of any potential violations of law. Officers often arrive at a scene while a crime is still taking place. Video footage evidence is very strong evidence that we can introduce in a jury trial to help ensure justice is done in any given case.
As far as the release of the video, the Illinois State Supreme Court has specific rules that govern the release of information by a prosecutor. One such rule, Rule 3.6 reads, “A lawyer who is participating in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and would pose a serious and imminent threat to the fairness of an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.” Releasing of a video would fall under the definition of “extrajudicial statement.” As such, I would let the ethical guidelines dictate when and if my office would release any body camera footage.
Presently there is much unrest between law enforcement officers and others in the world. Do you see this as a problem in our community at this time and what is your thought about efforts that you could make to ensure it doesn’t happen in this community?
Morgan County is a great community with great law enforcement officers. Every day, these men and women in uniform face challenges and those challenges often involve putting themselves in harm’s way to secure the safety of the general public. Morgan County residents, as a whole, understand this and have an attitude of respect and gratitude for our law enforcement officers. I conduct annual training with many of the agencies in the county to go over any changes in the law, concentrating especially on the law of search and seizure. As the State’s Attorney I will continue that practice and I am sure our law enforcement officers will continue to treat the citizens of our community with respect and fairness.
Anything else you wish to add:
I am the only candidate running for this office who has any experience as a prosecutor. I am the only candidate running for this office who has any jury trial experience. The office of State’s Attorney is not a place for on the job training. It is an important position that needs real world, actual experience in order to be done correctly. I have spent the last 14 years learning the law, honing my trial skills, defending the Constitution, ensuring justice, and prosecuting cases. Being a prosecutor is not an easy job. It involves long days and late nights. I am on call 24 hours a day to help law enforcement officers secure after hours search warrants or arrest warrants, or to just answer questions. It is a job I love. There are not many legal jobs where you can show up and do something good for somebody on a daily basis. That’s why I have chosen to dedicate my life to prosecution. I have the experience, ability, and legal acumen to ensure the work our law enforcement officers do is not done in vain.
Recently, the local Fraternal Order of Police organization, FOP Lodge 125, interviewed both me and my opponent. After extensive questions and interviews, the FOP UNANIMOUSLY voted to endorse my candidacy for Morgan County State’s Attorney. This was the first time the local FOP chose to endorse any candidate for State’s Attorney. In their endorsement they touted my 14 years of experience as a prosecutor which is in stark contrast to my opponent who has never had a jury trial in his less than two year career as an attorney. I am proud of their endorsement. I am also proud to have the endorsement of the following local officials:
Mayor Andy Ezard
Congressman Darin LaHood
Representative C.D. Davidsmeyer
Morgan County Commissioner Bill Meier
Morgan County Commissioner Ginny Fanning
Sheriff Randy Duvendack
Chief Tony Grootens
Morgan County Treasurer Jenny Geirnaeirt
Morgan County Circuit Clerk Theresa Lonergan
Morgan County Circuit Clerk Elect Amy Sipes and many others.
It is an honor to serve as your State’s Attorney and I humbly ask for your vote so together, we can continue to ensure Morgan County is a safe place to live, work, and raise a family. Thank you.