The first shot over the bow signaling a lead-in to the March 17, 2020 primary election was fired by defense attorney Eric Rinehart in announcing his candidacy for the Lake County State’s Attorney post. A former public defender, Rinehart believes the office has generated a culture of wasted resources on victimless crimes, not addressing wrongful convictions, and not providing justice for those without privilege.
The July 22 event held at the county courthouse’s Lincoln Plaza brought support from members of the legal community in private practice, family and friends, along with an endorsement from state Rep. Sam Yingling (D-62nd).
“I’m endorsing (him) because I believe in his commitment, and passion, to reforming our broken justice system that disproportionately impacts our low-income minority communities, such as the ones I represent,” said Yingling.
Attorney LaTonya Burton preceded Yingling, in speaking to the crowd.
“He (Rinehart) is a mentor, he is a leader,” said Burton. “We are in a time where we need to see hope manifest, we need to see transparency clear, and accountability must be measured. We are tired of the status quo, because that only works for some of us. But equal justice, that works for all of us.
“We are grateful that you are here for the start of a great transition of power. Welcome to change.”
Rinehart outlined five areas of “urgent reform” for the office: true transparency regarding crimes and prosecution, renewing a focus on violent crimes, restore confidence in the office by being above reproach from political influence, provide leadership in crime prevention, as well as rebuilding a critical connection between police and the communities and tracking violations of an individual’s constitutional rights.
“For decades, decisions in that building (courthouse) have been made by the same group of people … people who are not fighting for you,” said Rinehart. “For too long, (a) victim’s access to the justice system has been determined by their income, or their position, and not by the merits of the case. Access to the court has depended on that victim’s demographics and not on their pain.”
He also wants to broaden programs that work on rehabilitation “rather than incarceration,” and not punish addictions that should be treated as illness.
“In these divisive times, more than ever, it is important to have a justice system that respects and protects the dignity of all people,” said Rinehart. “How we protect our families and communities through the justice system is the most important issue decided on the county level.”
Rinehart has been identified as part of the “new breed” within the Democratic Party that takes an independent stance apart from the rote party platforms, while actively seeking a change. “A lot of the new victories that you’re seeing in the county, the truth is the candidates really did it independently, and then the organization saw they were great candidates and started to support them,” said Xavier Nogueras, campaign senior adviser.
“Usually, the party chooses someone that was sent. And this is important … people don’t want that anymore. They want an independent candidate whose self-interest is to help the community, not necessarily the party,” Nogueras said. “That’s who this guy is.”
Republican Michael Nerheim, the incumbent state’s attorney, won re-election to a second term in 2016, by approximately 16,000 votes over Democratic challenger, Matthew Stanton, an attorney and adjunct professor in constitutional law, at the Chicago Kent School of Law.
“In our county, we made national news for the worst possible of reasons. The state’s attorney’s office has wrongfully prosecuted innocent people,” Rinehart said. “We must confront this ugly fact and reconcile with our history … there has never been a full account of how our system wrongfully prosecuted so many individuals in the past.”
“I will change this culture, and report back to all the people on how and why this culture has persisted for so long. For over 16 years, I’ve been fighting for my clients in the civil and criminal courtrooms of Lake County. I have seen the justice system fail both victims and defendants.
“That’s why I have decided to launch this campaign. We have to do bette