Culture of Lake County state's attorneys office attacked by challenger, defended by incumbent

 
 
Updated 9/20/2016 6:16 PM
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  • Michael Nerheim, left, and Matt Stanton, right, are candidates for Lake County state's attorney in the November general election.

    Michael Nerheim, left, and Matt Stanton, right, are candidates for Lake County state's attorney in the November general election.

Republican incumbents deflected criticism from their Democratic challengers for top posts in the Lake County legal system Tuesday at a candidate forum sponsored by the Lake County Bar Association.

State's attorney Michael Nerheim is seeking a second term against attorney and law professor Matthew Stanton, while clerk of the circuit court Keith Brin is challenged by former assistant state's attorney Erin Cartwright Weinstein.

The format at the Glen Flora Country Club in Waukegan gave all candidates time to make opening and closing statements and respond to and rebut questions posed by a moderator.

Challengers were critical of the incumbents' performance the past four years.

Stanton, a Gurnee resident in his first run for public office, called for a "fresh perspective" and said Nerheim has not addressed the problems of the office.

"My campaign is about culture change. There's a culture of conviction at all costs that still exists," Stanton said.

He claimed Nerheim has not rid the office of that attitude as promised, and the problems are related to lack of respect for the presumption of innocence and due process.

"I did every single thing I told you I would do and then some," Nerheim told the packed lunch audience. He cited a specialized victims unit, pre-arrest and case review panels and an opioid initiative that he said has saved 114 lives, as examples of innovative programs that have improved the office.

"Lake County is now a leader of how you identify and prevent wrongful convictions," he said. Lake County exceeds Illinois law by requiring videotaping of interrogations in all felony cases, he added.

Stanton said he didn't think the case review panel has been utilized very often. If elected, he said he would assign two prosecutors to be on 24-hour call to review serious crimes with police to aid them in gathering evidence.

Nerheim said the case review panel "does result in real exonerations," and the volunteer panel of retired judges and others coupled with an in-house review group is a one-of-a-kind hybrid approach. He said the office has become a national model on several fronts and he wants to continue the successes.

But Stanton said bad prosecutions continue and referred to the case of Melissa Calusinski, who was convicted of murder but is seeking a new trial.

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