Voters will choose from among three Democrats and three Republicans on the March 20 primary ballot to replace retiring Lake County State's Attorney Mike Waller. The field on each side of the ballot is a mix of career prosecutors, defense attorneys and those who have worked both sides of a courtroom.
One issue the eventual winner must address is the damage done to the office's reputation and public perception by high-profile wrongful convictions, including those in which DNA evidence was ignored. In response, each candidate offers some version of a review panel that would ensure complex cases and evidence are fully vetted. Each also has ideas to boost training and raise morale and to improve communications with the public. They all offer ideas to create or strengthen units ranging from sex crimes to gangs. All are bright, hard working and dedicated. The Democratic primary features:
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• Reginald Mathews, a career prosecutor who would restructure the office to improve efficiency and assign prosecutors to areas of need and areas where their expertise can be best utilized;
• Defense attorney Karen Boyd Williams, who believes her business, management and human relations background gives her the best skills to run the office. She wants to make greater use of interns and volunteer attorneys to provide more support for prosecutors; and,
• Defense attorney and former assistant state's attorney Chris Kennedy, who wants to enhance the focus on victims, especially victims' rights in sex crimes and crimes against children. He also wants to enhance forfeitures and apply those proceeds to county use.
On the Republican side:
• Career prosecutor Louise Hayes, who wants to strengthen the cyber crimes division, particularly online thefts and sexual exploitation of children. She believes her knowledge of the office makes her most qualified to lead;
* Defense attorney Bryan Winter, who also serves as a municipal attorney, would make combating gang crimes a priority. He said he has the private sector leadership background the office needs to set its course; and
• Defense attorney Mike Nerheim, also a former prosecutor, who would create a public integrity unit to prosecute crimes of official misconduct and public corruption. He points to his work prosecuting, defending and teaching about DNA evidence and says no candidate can match his depth on that issue.
We endorse Democrat Kennedy and Republican Nerheim for their ideas and broad experience. They each bring an understanding of the office's inner workings from their days as prosecutors and a needed fresh perspective from their work as defense attorneys and in leading their private practices.