New state's attorney announces review panel for Lake County
Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim on Monday announced the people he'll appoint to a panel that will review cases involving possible wrongful convictions.
Nerheim also announced the creation of a citizens panel to examine the issue of wrongful convictions.
Six people will serve on the case review panel. All are lawyers or retired judges.
Four people will serve on the citizens panel, and that group's membership is more diverse. It includes a pastor, an activist and a retired journalist.
The formation of an independent case review panel was a cornerstone of Nerheim's successful campaign for the prosecutor's office. It was a response to wrongful prosecutions by the state's attorney's office under his predecessor, Michael J. Waller, including a few cases that led to convictions of innocent men.
Nerheim, who took office Monday, said he has been assembling the group for 10 months or so but didn't want the appointments to be construed as part of the political process during the campaign.
"I tired to identify people from outside the county and also people with diverse backgrounds and also people I don't know," he said. "I was surprised at how willing people were to participate."
The panel is authorized to review criminal cases where there is a question about the wrongful conviction of the innocent, identify the causes of wrongful convictions, and recommend protocols for investigating and prosecuting criminal cases going forward.
Suggestions of cases to review could come from defense attorneys, assistant state's attorneys, from outside the office or from Nerheim himself. He said the first meeting is being scheduled and will be held soon. No specific cases are on the horizon and the first order of business will be to brainstorm protocols.
The volunteer members of the case review panel are:
• Robert S. Baizer, an attorney who specializes in personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death cases. He's also a former assistant state's attorney in Lake County.
• Retired Judge Peter J. Dockery, a former assistant state's attorney in DuPage County.
• Nicholas P. Iavarone, a former assistant state's attorney in Cook County who now is in private practice.
• Ennedy D. Rivera, an attorney who specializes in immigration cases and civil and federal litigation.
• Retired Lake County Judge Emilio B. Santi, who also worked in the state's attorney's office and is now in private practice.
• Frank A. Zera, a former assistant state's attorney in Cook County and a former assistant attorney general for Illinois. He now leads the criminal justice department at the College of Lake County.
They will be sworn in as special assistant state's attorneys but will operate independently of Nerheim's staff. They will report directly to Nerheim.
The members of the citizens panel are:
• The Rev. John I. Caples Jr. of Jesus Name Apostolic Church in Waukegan. He's also the founder of the Family First Center of Lake County.
• Community activist Paula Carbillido.
• Former Lake County News-Sun reporter Art Peterson, who covered the courts for the newspaper.
• Elroy Reed, founder of The People's Voice newspaper and of the Soaring Eagle Publishing Co.
They will serve as a liaison between the community and the state's attorney's office regarding crime, public safety and the need to restore trust in the justice system following the wrongful-prosecution scandal.