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Crime & Courts

Schmack eyes transition from private practice to state's attorney

Richard Schmack, outside the DeKalb County Courthouse on Friday, will take office as the new DeKalb County State's Attorney next month.
Richard Schmack, outside the DeKalb County Courthouse on Friday, will take office as the new DeKalb County State's Attorney next month.

SYCAMORE – DeKalb County State’s Attorney-elect Richard Schmack found special meaning in the voter returns from five precincts in Tuesday’s election.

Schmack captured 75 percent or more of the votes cast in his race in DeKalb Township precincts 2, 4, 5, 14 and 15 – which include Eden’s Garden apartments, much of Annie Glidden Road and Greek Row. Voters there want local leaders to address crime in their neighborhood, Schmack said, and he’s happy they decided he’s the man for the job.

“I hope I can live up to the confidence they have expressed in me,” he said.

Schmack is floating in the calm waters between campaigning and taking office. He stopped taking criminal cases in his private practice when he began thinking about running for office.

But he plans to spend weekends preparing his pending bankruptcy cases for federal court. They will be finished by another private attorney.

He expects he won’t be privy to the inside considerations behind major investigations and cases until he is sworn in Dec. 3, but he no longer has to worry about waking up at 5 a.m. to write campaign literature.

He hasn’t heard from sitting State’s Attorney Clay Campbell since vote totals showed Schmack won by a small margin – about 750 votes, according to totals that did not include the 150 or so absentee ballots that could trickle in to the county clerk’s office before the results are certified Nov. 21. Preliminary unofficial votes totals showed Schmack with 19,876 votes and Campbell with 19,124.

Schmack has talked casually with some people about pending cases and would be willing to talk with Campbell, although Campbell has not yet talked with him, Schmack said Friday morning.

“That puts the transition a little up in the air,” Schmack said.

But Schmack plans to make appointments this week with people involved in major cases and the state’s attorney’s office. He also knows other previous state’s attorneys and prosecutors who also might share some advice.

When it comes to structuring staff in the office, he intends to stick with the promises he made during his campaign, unless information and experiences suggest otherwise once his name is on the office letterhead. He expects to make a few hiring decisions within his first weeks in office, but he’s not planning a major overhaul and said he won’t make current prosecutors interview to keep their jobs.

“There may be some changes,” Schmack said. “I don’t expect there will be wholesale changes.”

He declined to comment Friday on the nine people charged in connection with the “coffee fund” investigation, which involved allegations that Northern Illinois University employees sold university-owned scrap metal to fund office parties and other off-the-books perks. He said he plans to jump in with both feet after he is sworn in, but felt it would be inappropriate and premature to comment before then.

“My understanding is that there is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 pages of police reports [in the coffee fund investigation,]” Schmack said. “I haven’t read one page.”

When it comes to William Curl, the 36-year-old DeKalb man accused in the 2010 murder of
NIU student Antinette “Toni” Keller in 2010, Schmack said he had every confidence in the two prosecutors who have handled the case so far. The trial is scheduled to start the day after Schmack is sworn in, and he expects to watch parts of the trial from the gallery unless the current prosecutors ask him to cross-examine a particular witness or take another, smaller role.

Meanwhile, he stands by his comments during the election urging the state police and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to investigate how two witness statements favorable to a former NIU police officer accused of raping a student never made it to defense attorneys. A judge recently found NIU police intentionally withheld the statements, but Schmack said the issue also involved the interplay between police and prosecutors.

“It looks like a decision that should be gotten to the bottom of,” Schmack said.

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