On November 6, Lake County voters will have the unique opportunity to choose new leadership in the State’s Attorney’s office. This is unique because Tuesday’s election will mark the first time in 22 years in which the outgoing State’s Attorney is not on the ballot.
While this election will result in a new State’s Attorney, that alone is not enough to ensure that Lake County changes the direction it has been on. In the last two years, Lake County has become known throughout the country as a place where innocent people are put behind bars while leaving free the dangerous criminals who actually committed horrific crimes. The damage done to the individuals involved is compounded by the costs to taxpayers—which continue to increase as more lawsuits are filed. We deserve better.
We deserve the best leadership and the best ideas. We need to have the courage to confront head-on the problems and challenges we face in our criminal justice system. New leadership on November 6 isn’t enough. We need the right leadership.
Growing up, my parents taught me that you have two choices in life: you can either accept things as they are or accept responsibility for changing them. This lesson has guided my life, my career, and my campaign for State’s Attorney.
The day I first thought about running for State’s Attorney, I didn’t start by looking for campaign workers, endorsements, or yard sign locations. I studied, researched, and developed a plan to end wrongful convictions in Lake County. As the fundamental issue in the office, I felt that my first duty was to offer a responsible solution on day one.
My Conviction Integrity Unit, which is based on tried and tested units across the country, will look at old cases, and will finally stop the resistance to DNA testing. I will bring in an experienced prosecutor with no ties to Lake County’s longstanding insider culture. This senior prosecutor will have the sole responsibility of working these cases and ending the old practices that caused this problem. We will be advised by a panel of law professors and others, but only as to policies and best practices—the job of reviewing cases, old and new, can only be done by the prosecutor’s office.
Most importantly, the buck will stop with me, and me alone. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that we need a leader at the top who will set the tone and lead by example. My leadership as State’s Attorney will insist on transparency and accountability. We will publicly post all job openings, as we do in the school district I serve as a school board member. I will personally answer to taxpayers and ensure responsible stewardship of public funds.
My opponent and I have many significant differences, not just in terms of experience, leadership and independence. I believe his solution to the fundamental problem at the core of recent scandals is poorly conceived. Instead of leading the charge to end wrongful convictions, he has stated that he will outsource the job to a group of unnamed advisors. This proposed solution is ill-considered, impractical, and has never been considered elsewhere, precisely because it is unworkable.
My opponent and I also differ in other ways. My opponent has carefully limited his focus to the “reputation” of the State’s Attorney’s office; I have focused on what caused that reputation. From the beginning, I have been vocal in my criticism of the current administration’s decisions, especially those in which prosecutors pursued convictions long after evidence showed the cases were impossible to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. By contrast, my opponent stated that criticism of the State’s Attorney was “not justified” and that he was “proud of [his] support for Mike Waller,” the outgoing 22-year State’s Attorney whose administration is responsible for the headlines, lawsuits and other problems we now face. My opponent’s campaign is run by those in and close to the current administration. And just last month, he accepted a financial contribution from Waller.
Again, “you have two choices in life: you can either accept things as they are or accept responsibility for changing them.”
That’s what my campaign is about. New leadership that is the right leadership.
On Tuesday, I need your vote. I promise you that the practices and mindset that have led to the miscarriage of justice will end. Together, we’ll build a State’s Attorneys office that is a model for justice. Thank you.
Chris Kennedy is a Libertyville attorney and Democratic candidate for Lake County State's Attorney. For more information, visit www.chriskennedy2012.com.