After 10 years as Kane County’s top law enforcement official, Joe McMahon is leaving his post as state’s attorney this year.
Voters on Nov. 3 will choose his successor from a pair of experienced attorneys.
Democrat Jamie Mosser of St. Charles is a former county prosecutor who’s also spent time in private practice and providing pro bono legal work through Prairie State Legal Services.
She is facing Republican Robert Spence of Batavia, also a former county prosecutor who’s served as an assistant Illinois attorney general, a circuit court judge and an appellate court judge.
The Daily Herald recently asked the candidates to answer a series of questions. Here are their replies.
Q: Why are you running for this office, whether for reelection or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
A: I believe that I have unique experience that is unmatched by my opponent. I served as an assistant state’s attorney and assistant attorney general for 20 years, and I have tried 17 murder/homicide cases, compared to the one murder case my opponent tried as an assistant state’s attorney. I served as a Kane County Circuit Court Judge for 18 years, finishing out the last seven years of my legal career on the Illinois Appellate Court.
This gives me a much wider and more unique perspective of how the criminal justice system functions. I think this is helpful in both convicting the guilty and protecting the rights of the innocent. This position is most similar to that of a player-coach, and it’s hard to coach younger, less experienced attorneys if you don’t have the experience yourself.
Q: If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you’ve led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the board and what would your priority be?
A: While on the bench, I sat on a number of committees, but there were two Illinois Supreme Court committees that were significant. For nine years, I sat on and became vice-chair of, the Supreme Court Legislative Committee, which evaluated all proposed criminal justice legislation to determine the effect it would have on the court system and the effect it would have on judicial discretion.
I also sat on the Supreme Court Committee on Equality and Fairness for four years. This committee was tasked with examining how our court system in Illinois can ensure equality within the court system for all. My priorities would be addressing violent crime, providing greater victim services, providing greater training and mentoring within the office, and expanding the use of treatment courts and diversion programs.
Treatment Courts and diversion programs are useful and appropriate for nonviolent offenders.
Q: What crime should be the office’s top target. Drugs? Gang violence? Child sex abuse? Something else? Why? What steps will you take to address the priorities as you see them?
A: As for specific crimes, the single most important step the office could take to reduce violent crime would be aggressively prosecuting illegal gun cases. That would affect violence in the community more than any other short-term measure. The end result of that would likely be more trials for Unlawful Use of Weapons, Unlawful Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon, and Armed Violence.
The other net result would probably be more prison sentences for those who unlawfully possess and use firearms on the streets.
Q: Describe your position regarding the allocation of resources in the state’s attorney’s office. Are personnel allocated as they should be? Are there capital expense or other budgetary items that the office must address, and, if so, how do you propose to address them?
A: I think that personnel are largely allocated in a reasonable manner. I would like to see a greater level of supervision within the office, and more training on legal issues and trial technique. I plan on providing greater victim services and using the services of a social worker or counselor, both for victims, as well as for staff.
Similar to what Elgin Police Department has done, I would propose providing staff the opportunity (voluntarily) to see this staff counselor and give them time off as an incentive to periodically checking in with the counselor. At some point, Kane County must provide some degree of equity in pay, to make it somewhat commensurate with surrounding counties.
Historically, the State’s Attorney’s Office has lost attorneys to surrounding counties due to salary issues. We have invested years of training and experience into these attorneys, only to see them move on due to the pay scale. Support staff are also inadequately compensated.
While we cannot always compare our level of resources to that of DuPage County, the offices are similar, the volume of cases is similar, but the DuPage salaries are substantially greater. That has to change.
Q: Name one concrete program you’ll create or personnel move you’ll make to improve efficiency in the office or make it more successful. Explain how it will be funded and how you will overcome any obstacles to initiating it.
A: As we all know, victims of domestic violence need victim services. Services are available, but those services are fragmented. Victims go to the Judicial Center to obtain an order of protection, to Mutual Ground or the Crisis Center to obtain counseling services, to another location for housing assistance, and yet another place for their children to obtain counseling.
We need a new approach to providing services to victims of domestic violence; a “one-stop shop” for victim services for women and children who experience family violence. They need to go to one place to find all of their services; where they can receive counseling, advocacy, encouragement, and, most important, a place where they can find hope.
This is a new strategy that is being employed across the country. These places are called “Family Justice Centers.” They are safe places for victims to go, where all their needs are met. Studies have shown that when victims feel protected, when their needs are met, they tend to follow through at a greater rate, which improves the quality of the prosecution. This is a long-term proposition, but federal grant money is available (see San Diego Family Justice Center).
Q: The Kane County State’s Attorney’s office was called upon to prosecute the Laquan McDonald case. Do you believe that is an appropriate use of the office? What duty does the state’s attorney have in providing a public accounting of the time and expenses involved in taking over such a prosecution outside the normal duties of the office?
A: If I was State’s Attorney, I would not have accepted the appointment as special prosecutor. In an era when resources are thin, I believe Kane County resources should be directed toward prosecuting Kane County crime. While I would agree that the State’s Attorney is not legally required to provide an accounting, I think it would be appropriate to do so.
Q. The relationship between the current state’s attorney and the current county board chairman could be described as strained. What will you do to ensure there is a positive working relationship with the new chairman and county board?
A. I would make every attempt to cooperatively work with the County Board Chairman and County Board members. Conflict is inevitable, but without being critical of any one person, my personal belief is that conflict is best handled privately. It is generally more effective to work through conflict privately rather than through the news media.
Q: The county has experienced major increases in the costs of defending litigation and insuring against losses stemming from such litigation in recent years. What can the state’s attorney do to lower those costs?
A: Some of the issues that have arisen can be traced back to the conflict between the State’s Attorney and the County Board Chairman, and are therefore, to some degree, unique. However, the State’s Attorney can provide valuable training to all of its clients. Whether that training is concerned with the Freedom of Information Act (see https://spenceforstatesattorney.com/transparency, for my experience with FOIA), the Open Meetings Act, the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act, insurance liability issues, or civil rights issues, the State’s Attorney’s Office has a reservoir of experience to draw upon. Additionally, when a unique legal issue arises, the office can use outside counsel who have expertise in the area of law.