BLOOMINGTON — The upcoming vacancy for McLean County state's attorney has drawn five applicants to fill the post held by Jason Chambers, who will be sworn in Aug. 21 as circuit judge.
The McLean County Board's executive committee will interview candidates Tuesday with a full vote on Chairman John McIntyre's nominee planned at the Aug. 21 board meeting.
Applicants are Assistant County Administrator Don Knapp; Jessica Woods, first assistant state's attorney of the civil unit; Mark Messman, assistant state's attorney with the civil division; and private attorneys Jane Foster and Chris Gramm.
Knapp served as first assistant state's attorney for the county's civil division before taking over as assistant county administrator in 2017. The move, said Knapp, was made to address the heavy workload in the administrator's office following the retirement of Hannah Eisner.
Knapp's background includes 12 years as an appellate law clerk for the Third District Appellate Court in Ottawa and Peoria where he analyzed appeals and drafted opinions on civil and criminal cases. That service, along with six years with State Farm's special investigative unit, said Knapp, has given him a broad based knowledge of the law.
On the issue of discretion to file charges, Knapp said the use of public resources must be recognized.
"I would seek to punish people who do evil things differently than we punish those who do stupid things," said Knapp.
A small number of "true troublemakers who are intent on solving their disputes with violence" are among those who need to be removed from the community, said Knapp. The applicant said he supports the county's mental health, veterans and drug court programs.
Woods, current first assistant of the civil unit and a former criminal prosecutor, said "I believe I would provide the most stable transition from Jason Chambers."
Woods, who began work with the county office in 2007, served as a prosecutor until her move in 2014 to the civil division. She left the office for a year to work as deputy corporate counsel in Normal and returned in 2017.
For Woods, one of the critical issues facing the county is "this wave of crime we've had in this community." The state's attorney's office, working with law enforcement and the community, can play a role in addressing the causes of violence, said Woods.
Woods described her plan to be "a hands-on state's attorney" who will carry a caseload. Before her transfer to the civil division, Woods handled serious felony cases and screened cases for charges.
Meanwhile, Messman has worked as a prosecutor and civil litigator on behalf of the county since joining the state's attorney's office in 2002.
Strong leadership and litigation skills, along with a dedication to public service in the community, are traits a state's attorney should possess, according to Messman.
"Leadership needs to have a hands-on view of what is occurring and there's no better way to do that then by being present and participating in the courtroom," said the applicant.
The area's relatively low crime rate is impacted by those who break the law, said Messman, noting that domestic violence, poverty, mental health and addiction are contributors to crime. Messman said he does not advocate sweeping changes for the office, instead suggesting that "we remain vigilant and monitor the success of programs that are put in place and changes that occur and tailor our approach to changing times."
Foster served as first assistant state's attorney for McLean County before leaving the office to run for state's attorney against Chambers in 2011. She most recently worked as a prosecutor for the Macon County state's attorney's office.
Foster said she left her job in Decatur "because I was ready to get back home and be involved in my community."
Foster cites her handling of complex criminal cases as one of her major strengths.
"My passion for prosecution has directed my professional career and the pursuit of this position. My passion is tempered by my maturity, my ability to lead and my desire to mentor the office staff," said Foster.
Gun violence, elder abuse and the spread of opioid addiction top Foster's list of critical issues.
Gramm said he views the state's attorney as "a position of awesome power and responsibility, and it takes someone with years of experience to properly wield that power."
According to Gramm, his experience as a prosecutor and defense lawyer lends itself to a greater understanding of how the justice system works. His prior career in management would be helpful in operating the state's attorney's office, with 26 attorneys and additional support staff, said Gramm.
The applicant said he has no plans for major changes in the state's attorney's office, if appointed.
"Jason ran a great office and has great personnel. I would like to build on his team," said Gramm.
With nine murders so far this year in the Twin Cities, violent crime is a major concern for the community, said Gramm.
"A strong message needs to be sent that this won't be tolerated in McLean County," said Gramm.