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Article updated: 10/18/2012 5:10 PM

Candidates pledge to reform Lake County state's attorney's office

By Russell Lissau

As they have throughout their campaigns, the two men vying to be Lake County's next state's attorney sounded like crusading reformers during a debate Wednesday night.

Democrat Chris Kennedy and Republican Mike Nerheim both criticized how incumbent Michael Waller has run the office, particularly in light of the wrongful prosecutions that have come to light in recent years.

"I see a system that is broken, that needs fundamental changes at the very core," Kennedy said during his opening remarks at the College of Lake County in Grayslake.

"It's about trust," Nerheim said. "The reputation of that office has to be restored."

Those wrongful prosecutions -- including several convictions -- were a national embarrassment for the state's attorney's office and for Waller, a Republican who is not seeking re-election.

Kennedy and Nerheim -- both former prosecutors now in private practice -- frequently spoke Wednesday about that scandal and their plans for preventing similar cases from happening.

Nerheim, of Gurnee, wants to improve the office's forensic science training, updating it as the science evolves. He also wants to change the culture of the office by ensuring prosecutors focus on justice, not just getting convictions.

Nerheim also pledged to create an independent panel that will review potential wrongful prosecutions. He indicated he has candidates aboard already but said he won't release their names until after the Nov. 6 election.

That didn't sit well with Kennedy, who criticized that concept as a "secret panel."

Kennedy, of Libertyville, wants to create a conviction integrity unit within the office that will handle potential wrongful convictions.

He called for reviews of any cases involving convicts who continue to proclaim their innocence.

Kennedy and Nerheim talked about other issues, too.

Kennedy said he wants to create a specialized sex-crimes division to help people who are "uniquely victimized."

Nerheim voiced continued support for the county's Child Advocacy Center.

"We have to make sure our child victims are being represented," he said.

Candidates in three other countywide political races also spoke during the event.

Democrat Rupam Dave and Republican Keith Brin are running for circuit court clerk. Incumbent Sally Coffelt is not seeking re-election.

Additionally, Democratic incumbent Mary Ellen Vanderventer and Republican Bob Bednar are running for recorder of deeds.

Republican coroner candidate Steve Newton briefly addressed the crowd, too. The Democratic hopeful, Dr. Thomas Rudd, did not attend because of a schedule conflict.

The forum was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the Daily Herald, the Lake County Bar Association and the American Association of University Women.

Reform: Candidates address wrongful prosecutions

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