Chris Kennedy: Candidate Profile

Lake State's Attorney (Democrat)

  • Chris Kennedy, running for Lake State's Attorney

    Chris Kennedy, running for Lake State's Attorney

Updated 9/21/2012 4:38 PM




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.

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City: Libertyville


Office sought: Lake State's Attorney

Age: 44

Family: Married with three children

Occupation: Attorney

Education: J.D., John Marshall Law School (1994)(Law Review executive board member/editor, Moot Court, Scribes Award for Legal Writing, Dean's Scholarship); B.A. in History, State University of New York, Binghamton (1990); John S. Burke Catholic High School (1986).

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Civic involvement: * past board member and Legislative Director of the Autism Society of Illinois (wrote, passed numerous laws and programs to protect persons with autism and other disabilities); *Little League coach/manager, 2003-present; *member of various organizations (Illinois State Bar Association, Chicago Bar Association, Lake County Bar Association, Small Business Advocacy Council); *District 70 liaison to SEDOL (Special Education District of Lake County).

Elected offices held: School board member, Libertyville District 70 (2007-present)

Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No.

Candidate's Key Issues

Key Issue 1

The approach to high-profile cases involving alleged wrongful convictions, especially concerning DNA evidence, is the most urgent issue in this race. For too long, and in too many cases, questions have been raised about whether our prosecutors heed undisputed physical evidence, resulting in accusations of injustice, compromised public safety and unnecessary taxpayer expense. I will establish a Conviction Integrity Unit to prevent wrongful convictions while also preventing further crimes by making sure the Lake County State's Attorney's Office pursues and convicts the actual perpetrators of violent crimes. The Conviction Integrity Unit will: a. Retrospectively review certain post-conviction cases, draw lessons from past cases and studies on wrongful convictions, and seek to identify and prosecute correct perpetrators; b. Prospectively apply lessons learned from wrongful conviction studies, supervise and enhance training of Assistant State's Attorneys and investigators in best practices to prevent wrongful prosecutions, oversee process of investigation and charging of major crimes; and c. Drive systemic institutional reform and cultural change. This unit will bolster public confidence in the prosecutor's office and increase public safety by ensuring that cases involving physical evidence, such as DNA material, are treated properly using the best practices available. (Discussed in more detail in response to question #1 below.)

Key Issue 2

I will work to enhance the focus on victims, especially victims' rights in sex crimes and crimes against children. I will establish a specialized unit to focus strictly on sex offenses, to improve the Office's focus on these difficult and dangerous cases while maintaining respect for victims and their right to be heard. The Sex Crimes Unit will consist of select Assistant State's Attorneys committed to a minimum period of time, specialized training and multidisciplinary expertise. This division will ensure prompt interaction from the prosecution team at the outset of each case, with the same team handling a case from beginning to end, committing to increased victim support throughout prosecution and afterward.


Key Issue 3

I will work to improve transparency and to restore to the Office its sense of purpose and its moral imperative to pursue equal justice. As State's Attorney, I will remain personally accountable by answering questions from the press, inviting outside input and even criticism, and work to earn and maintain public trust by exhibiting personal integrity, fairness and professionalism at all times. I will also advocate for victims' rights while upholding those of defendants, promote positive professional relationships with partner agencies while maintaining independent judgment, and maintain accountability by responsibly managing public funds. I believe that the Lake County State's Attorney's Office can and will become a model for other prosecutors' offices.

Questions & Answers

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.

Immediately upon taking office, I will create a Conviction Integrity Unit to correct and prevent wrongful convictions, which has been a uniquely embarrassing, expensive and dangerous phenomenon for Lake County. This Unit will: ? Independently investigate and make recommendations on certain challenged convictions; ? Prosecute cold cases where evidence suggests different, or additional, perpetrators; ? Oversee ongoing cases, investigations, and training to ensure that evidence is properly collected, tested and evaluated, at the earliest opportunity in every case; and ? Serve as an incubator for ?best practices,? by setting responsible standards for the pursuit and conviction of perpetrators of violent crime. The Unit would consist of a prosecutor without any ties to the original convictions, who would report directly to me and work with a senior investigator, who also has no ties to the cases. The Conviction Integrity Unit would additionally utilize the advice of an outside advisory board comprised of leading experts in criminal justice, including legal scholars and former prosecutors, who would voluntarily serve and advise on best practices. Unlike other ideas being floated, this advisory board would not make determinations or review specific cases. Potential conflicts of interest and other ethical and practical issues simply make that proposal unrealistic and ineffective. The Conviction Integrity Unit should be revenue-neutral in terms of personnel costs. As for operating costs, we will aggressively pursue federal grants to support the mission of ensuring justice is done in all cases.

What is your plan to improve the handling of cases with a DNA element to them?

Over the past two years, a series of prominent cases prosecuted by the Lake County State?s Attorney?s Office have fallen apart amid charges of wrongful convictions. In most of these cases, DNA evidence has appeared to exonerate defendants, even at early stages of prosecution. As State?s Attorney, DNA and other scientific evidence will become a priority, as prosecutors will be expected to pursue all relevant evidence, follow the best evidence, and express differing views within the office as to how to best proceed. My Conviction Integrity Unit will review and oversee all procedures and training of Assistant State?s Attorneys and investigators in the proper collection and testing of DNA evidence. Additionally, my office will work collaboratively with local, state and federal law enforcement to conduct thorough, uniform investigations. We will also utilize important resources, such as the FBI?s CODIS DNA Index, which contains millions of genetic fingerprints. Lastly, it is paramount to employ all new forensic technologies that improve our ability to obtain valid convictions. As someone who has taught evidence courses, including DNA evidence, I will ensure that new resources are constantly being developed and updated. A hallmark of my candidacy is my commitment to making the Lake County State?s Attorney?s Office a model of best practices and a leader in preventing wrongful convictions while actively pursuing all crimes utilizing the most up-to-date forensic practices available anywhere.

Cook County SA Anita Alvarez and other officials oppose the state?s gay marriage ban. What?s your stance on the issue?

The primary roles of the State?s Attorney are to ensure public safety by seeking justice in criminal cases and to protect taxpayers by serving as the County?s attorney in various civil matters. In each role, the State?s Attorney is sworn to uphold the Constitution and to act on behalf of the people of Lake County in accordance with the law as written. Throughout my career, I have represented many people seeking equal treatment under the law, enforcing the rights of people who have been victims of crime, supporting the dignity and equality of persons with special needs, and pursuing those who have abused their power by denying such rights to people. As Lake County State?s Attorney, I will fulfill my sworn duty to uphold the law and will determine claims of individual Constitutional rights on a case-by-case basis.

What crime should be the office?s top target. Drugs? Gang violence? Child sex abuse? Something else? Why?

All of these crimes are extremely serious, and my office will focus on all of them. I have specifically proposed the creation a separate Sex Crimes Unit that will commit resources and expertise to ensure that we can properly combat sex crimes, as well as crimes against children. Such cases are often extremely and uniquely challenging for law enforcement and for victims, and the perpetrators of such crimes particularly dangerous. These crimes deserve special attention and resources. Currently, sex crime cases in the Lake County State?s Attorney may assigned to multiple Assistant State?s Attorneys (ASA) at various points of prosecution. One ASA may work up the case in the investigative and charging phases, while another takes over later in the process. Unlike the current system, I will assign at least two prosecutors to exclusively work these cases from start to finish. This ?vertical prosecution? will allow victims to work with, and gain trust in, a single prosecutor. The specialized focus of this unit will also allow prosecutors to gain a high level of expertise in handling these cases and in protecting victims. I would also convert the current Drug unit into a Drug/Gang unit because of the nexus between the two issues. Concerning gang activity, it is vital to stamp out gangs by placing a focus not only on the kid with the drugs or the gun, but all who were responsible for placing them into his hands and fostering violence and illegal activities. I will aggressively pursue street gangs and combat the drug and gun violence they promote by leading the use of the recently enacted Illinois Street Gangs RICO Act to strike at the entire organization.

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?

I believe it is the duty of the State?s Attorney to prosecute willful government-related crimes equally and without regard to partisanship or personal relationships. Crimes or lesser violations of the law should not be tolerated by those entrusted with public office. The Open Meetings Act, in conjunction with the Freedom of Information Act and other laws, are essential to ensuring transparency and accountability in our government, which are essential to a healthy democracy. As an elected school board member and appointee of a state task force, I have direct experience with these laws and have received training in each. In my law practice, I have represented individuals whose rights were violated by elected officials, including cases where the Open Meetings Act was also violated. I did not hesitate to pursue such cases, regardless of party affiliation or status of those on the other side; I will not hesitate to uphold the law as State?s Attorney either. In addition to active pursuing government-related cases, my office will also lead by example by ushering in a new era of transparency. I believe the State?s Attorney has a responsibility to answer to the public for decisions made and policies pursued. The State?s Attorney is a public servant, accountable to the taxpayers that fund the office. I will remain personally answerable to the press and public alike, and will ensure that my employees, other County employees, and local public bodies are properly trained in the law pertaining to openness and accountability in government.