DuPage County prosecutors now are among only two groups in the state handling their own appeals -- a move officials say will better prepare lawyers for trial.
"It's a tremendous area of training," State's Attorney Bob Berlin said. "There's no question it makes our lawyers better."
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Berlin enacted the program in October after receiving county board approval to hire two new attorneys. The newcomers have starting salaries of $54,150 and work in a five-person appeals unit headed up by veteran prosecutors.
The unit is taking over some work previously hired out to the state's appellate prosecutor's office, which represents all Illinois counties other than Cook -- and, now, DuPage -- in appeals court.
Berlin said the change would give his office "vertical control" over how appellate issues are argued -- and teach lawyers steps they can take to prevent cases from being returned in the first place.
"When a case gets reversed, the cost to the victims, the cost to the office and the cost to the community is immense," he said. "Hopefully we're going to have a greater percentage of success and have a better product in the appellate court, which is a benefit to everybody. With the state (appellate prosecutor) we've always had input, but ultimately it's not our decision as to how to argue a particular issue."
Berlin stressed that the appellate prosecutor's office has done a "good job" for DuPage and said he would continue to lean on it for training services and help with cases involving potential conflicts of interest.
Each year, about 3,000 felony cases are prosecuted in DuPage, with roughly 135 -- or 4½ percent -- leading to appeals of convictions and pretrial rulings. There's also a small number of civil appeals involving county litigation.
Berlin, a former deputy supervisor of Cook County appeals, said he plans to rotate lawyers in and out of the unit so attorneys can experience firsthand how the process works and take that knowledge back to trial court.
"It's really going to be a professional unit, and the goal is to have a top quality output," he said. "We want to have the best lawyers -- the best trained and the best trial attorneys out there. That's what the community deserves."