Mike Nerheim: Candidate Profile
Lake State's Attorney (Republican)
Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
Office sought: Lake State's Attorney
Family: Married with three children
Occupation: Criminal defense attorney in private practice handling felony, juvenile, misdemeanor and traffic matters, including complex civil litigation. Partner in Lake County law firm, Teen Court Judge and on faculty Columbia College teaching DNA/laws of evidence.
Education: Juris Doctor, Cum Laude, The John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Illinois, 2000. Bachelor of Science, double major: Criminal Justice and Psychology, Winona State University, Winona, Minnesota, 1996.
Civic involvement: #NAME?
Elected offices held: This is the first time I have sought public office and I'm running because I want to make a difference in Lake County.
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No.
Key Issue 1
RESTORE PUBLIC TRUST IN THE STATE'S ATTORNEY'S OFFICE. The people of our great county deserve to know that justice will be served and there are a number of things I will do to restore the public?s trust in the office: -Appoint an independent Case Review Panel to review old cases and convictions, to develop protocols for the prosecution of cases with forensic evidence including DNA, and to work with law enforcement to prevent false confessions going forward. Wrongful convictions harm innocent people, leave the perpetrator on the streets and can cost tax-paying citizens millions of dollars in lawsuits. While the Lake County State?s Attorney?s Office already has a conviction integrity unit to look at past cases and actively seek DNA testing to ensure the validity of convictions which is similar to the proposal by my opponent, one of the key differences of my proposal is that the Case Review Panel that I propose will be independent of the State?s Attorney?s Office and will bring a fresh perspective and different set of eyes. My panel will include diverse members from the legal community and other leaders from outside of Lake County. I have already lined up an incredible pool of talent to take on this important role, at no additional cost to taxpayers. While having an in-house panel may work in much larger cities, I do not believe that for an office the size of the Lake County State?s Attorney?s Office where most prosecutors know one another and may socialize together that an in-house approach and review is effective and unbiased. -Conduct a thorough review and evaluation of every employee of the State?s Attorney?s Office to determine continued employment. -Promote a culture in the State's Attorney's Office that is open to looking at all different kinds of evidence to ensure the right people are being prosecuted. This is an issue of justice, and an issue of making changes in policy, procedures and training, as well as bringing a fresh perspective. -Improve training for prosecutors and law enforcement. With the ever-increasing use and development of DNA evidence, it is crucial all prosecutors are constantly training regarding the latest advances in forensic science and evidence. I would emphasize in-house training for all prosecutors so they are always up-to-speed on the latest changes in the law and advances in forensics, science and the laws of evidence. I also bring experience prosecuting with DNA, defending with DNA and teaching DNA. -Work more closely with law enforcement in the investigation of crimes and gathering evidence. The State's Attorney's Office should be involved even before an arrest is made, so that there's no question criminal cases are being handled properly from start to finish. -Create a Pubic Integrity Unit to investigate and prosecute crimes involving official misconduct, public corruption and fraud. When it comes to government impropriety, there will be zero tolerance. -Expand resources to combat the increase in elder abuse and computer-related crimes, especially financial identity theft and preying on children via the Internet. -Continue to support the new sexual assault protocols being implemented in Lake County to ensure sexual assault cases are prosecuted effectively and victims? rights are respected. -Open up the lines of communication between the State?s Attorney?s Office and the public. While I believe criminal cases should be tried in the courtroom and not in the media, the citizens of Lake County have a right to know what?s happening in the office. Open and regular communication between the office and the media will ensure the publics stays informed, particularly where high-profile cases are concerned.
Key Issue 2
ERADICATE GANGS, GUNS AND DRUG VIOLENCE IN LAKE COUNTY. Gangs, guns and drugs pose a triple threat to the safety and welfare of our community. As State?s Attorney, I will work with law enforcement to eradicate this growing problem in Lake County. Nearby Cook County has the largest gang population in the country. Local law enforcement estimates 8,000 to 10,000 active gang members are now in Lake County. These gangs are on the move, constantly relocating and our county has become their turf. Most of the gang violence that the Lake County Gang Task Force is seeing is deadly crime?homicides or crimes of a heinous nature. Local law enforcement confirms homicides in Lake County are primarily gang related and extremely violent, and also involve guns and narcotics trafficking. Today, we look at the gang problem in each of our Lake County communities and need to work together to improve the sharing of information and resources on a countywide basis. In addition, the current practice is gang cases are randomly assigned to prosecutors across different courtrooms and these cases are prosecuted as individual cases, which makes it difficult to see the bigger picture or the relationship between cases. As State?s Attorney, I will have a Gang Prosecution Unit that will bring focus to getting rid of gangs, guns and drugs in our community. This new unit would specialize in gang cases, enabling a bigger picture view, and would work alongside the Lake County Gang Task Force to help with training for law enforcement, which is especially important because of the new Illinois Street Gang RICO statutes. This legislation allows prosecutors to connect single gang crimes to the larger criminal enterprise and the higher-up gang leaders for the actions of their members, as well as increases penalties. The new legislation is a powerful tool, however we need to know how to use it.
Key Issue 3
IMPROVE THE EFFICIENCY AND EFFECTIVENESS OF THE OFFICE. -Implement an Alternative Prosecution Program for first-time non-violent offenders to earn a second chance to make good, and to better benefit the community and victims. The self-funded program is meant to give first-time offenders the opportunity to keep a conviction from being permanently entered on their record, relieve overcrowding in the Lake County jail, reduce caseloads in the courtrooms and establish mandatory restitution payments to crime victims. -Streamline the process for communicating with and counseling victims of crimes. The State?s Attorney?s Office has a staff of highly trained legal professionals, administrators and counselors who will be put to better use on behalf of victims so that victims can receive help and support when they need it most. My approach will require early and continued meetings with victims fully explaining their rights and crime victim?s compensation programs, the office assigning victim-witness coordinators, and ensuring that victims have a voice in the process. We will routinely seek input from victims and keep them advised as their case proceeds through the court system. I will strictly enforce the Victim?s Bill of Rights to ensure everyone on my staff is adhering to these guidelines. -Restructure the Civil Division of the State?s Attorney?s Office and maximize the use of in-house resources. Today, numerous civil cases are outsourced to private law firms, which costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. These funds could be reallocated to fight gangs and drugs. -Change the promotional structure and career paths for office staff. I believe promotions should be based on skills and abilities, not just tenure. This would improve staff engagement and help drive the right behaviors. -Leverage technology to: a) Improve communication between law enforcement and the courthouse, and ensure secure document sharing to reduce paperwork, eliminate waste and cut down on costs. b) Facilitate and implement the Integrated Justice Program allow secure sharing of information between all law enforcement agencies and the State?s Attorney?s Office. c) Use technology to improve scheduling for police officers needing to testify thereby reducing the cost of overtime pay and enabling police officers to be more productive. d) In certain cases, use video technology for bond hearings particularly for officers having to travel from outside Waukegan. e) Work with law enforcement and the Clerk?s office to implement eCitation, which would reduce costs, improve safety and help police officers work more efficiently. Streamline the arrest warrant process by enabling police officers to use technology to expedite the felony review process. f) Encourage training and better use of the NOMAD mobile presentation system in the courtrooms, which gives prosecutors dynamic tools to present evidence to juries more effectively.
Name one concrete program you?ll create or personnel move you?ll make to improve public confidence in the office. Explain how it will be funded.
Appoint an independent Case Review Panel to review old cases and convictions, to develop protocols for the prosecution of cases with forensic evidence including DNA, and to work with law enforcement to prevent false confessions going forward. My panel will include diverse members from the legal community and other leaders from outside of Lake County. I have already assembled a talented independent group to take on this important role, at no additional cost to taxpayers. Wrongful convictions harm innocent people, leave the perpetrator on the streets and can cost tax-paying citizens millions of dollars in lawsuits.
What is your plan to improve the handling of cases with a DNA element to them?
1) Improve training. Updates in case law, statutory updates and advances in DNA and other forensic sciences are constantly evolving and it?s imperative that there is consistent and constant training for prosecutors, law enforcement, and the crime lab. 2) We must closely monitor all physical evidence on newly charged cases and have regular interaction between law enforcement and the State?s Attorney?s Office to ensure the evidence is being tested as requested. 3) In addition, there needs to be regular interaction between the State?s Attorney?s Office and the crime lab to ensure all of the forensic evidence is being tested and the office is constantly reviewing the results of these tests to determine how they may impact the case. 4) There has to be a constant weighing of all of the evidence in the case, not only the testing of physical evidence, but also witness statements, eye witness accounts, etc. All of the evidence should be taken into consideration and weighted in the global view of the case to ensure all law enforcement follow-ups have been done and that all evidence has been received an evaluated. 5) Our office will be open to legitimate requests from defendants for DNA testing and I will promote a culture in the office that is open to any potential theories that result from this testing. 6) To address backlog of DNA evidence, I will work closely with the crime lab to ensure that our cases sent for DNA analysis do not languish and I will work with the lab to prioritize cases. I will support legislation that would provide funding for the crime lab as their backlog generally corresponds to a lack of funding. In addition, I would appoint a liaison in the State?s Attorney?s Office who would work closely with the crime lab and who also could monitor legislation and additional revenue streams.
Cook County SA Anita Alvarez and other officials oppose the state?s gay marriage ban. What?s your stance on the issue?
As State?s Attorney, I will enforce the laws of the State of Illinois regardless of my personal views. I don?t believe the State?s Attorney should choose to enforce the laws based on his or her personal opinion.
What crime should be the office?s top target. Drugs? Gang violence? Child sex abuse? Something else? Why?
As State?s Attorney, I will lead a team that will be fully committed to investigating and prosecuting not just certain areas of crime, but rather all types of criminal conduct?from traffic violations to felonies, guaranteeing that these crimes are prosecuted vigorously according to the law. Additionally, I will work with community leaders and others to support crime prevention. That said, one of the biggest issues facing Lake County today is the dramatic increase in gangs and gang violence in our community. As State's Attorney, I will create a Gang Prosecution Unit to bring focus to getting rid of gangs, guns and drugs in our community. This new unit would specialize in gang cases, enabling a bigger picture view, and would work alongside the Lake County Gang Task Force to help with training for law enforcement. This is especially important because of the new Illinois Street Gang RICO statutes. This legislation allows prosecutors to connect single gang crimes to the larger criminal enterprise and the higher-up gang leaders for the actions of their members, as well as increases penalties.
Prosecutions of several Island Lake officials failed; the current state?s attorney?s office has said it prefers not to prosecute cases involving violations of the Open Meetings Act and other government-related crimes. Should such cases be prosecuted?
Yes. The Open Meetings Act is an important statute to ensure transparency of the government process. As State?s Attorney, I will create a Public Integrity Unit that will investigate and prosecute crimes involving official misconduct, public corruption and fraud, and will ensure the public is given access to all the information to which its entitled from its government.