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Schmack putting stamp on State's Attorney's Office

SYCAMORE – DeKalb County State’s Attorney-elect Richard Schmack has hired a first assistant and told two current prosecutors they won’t be working for him when he takes office Dec. 3.

Duke Harris, a lead prosecutor in Champaign County since 1998, will be Schmack’s first assistant, while Phil Montgomery will retain his position as chief of the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Criminal Division.

Harris was a felony prosecutor in the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office from 1986 to 1996 before failing to receive the Republican nomination for state’s attorney in 1996, Schmack said.

“My feeling is, someone with that level of experience in university towns is just what we need here,” Schmack said.

He announced his decisions Wednesday within the local legal community, which left a bad taste in sitting State’s Attorney Clay Campbell’s mouth. Schmack defeated Campbell in the November election by 739 votes. Schmack had 19,895 votes to Campbell’s 19,156.

Schmack complimented Montgomery’s work prosecuting William “Billy” Curl, who is accused of killing Northern Illinois University freshman Antinette “Toni” Keller in October 2010. Harris’ hire is not a reflection of Montgomery, Schmack said.

“I said all along in this campaign I was going to hire a first assistant,” Schmack said.

Prosecutors Julie Trevarthen and Victor Escarcida also learned Wednesday that child murderer Jack McCullough’s sentencing Friday will be their last major action for the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office.

The duo are “superstar lawyers” who brought 7-year-old Maria Ridulph’s killer to justice more than 50 years after her disappearance, Campbell said. Campbell attributed the decision to jealousy in the local legal community surrounding McCullough’s prosecution.

“Not to be jaded, but politics has returned to the state’s attorney’s office in the DeKalb County Courthouse,” Campbell said.

Schmack denied the decision had anything to do with McCullough.

“I’m not going to make any comment on that, other than to say any time a new state’s attorney comes in, you have to establish your own team,” Schmack said. “And we don’t have unlimited funds in the office, and we have a limited number of spots.”

Schmack also has hired Jessica Finley, who worked for the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office until a year ago and supported Schmack’s campaign.

Campbell and Schmack have had little communication since the election. Campbell said he’s been trying to wrap up some initiatives in his office that he’d like to see continue and bristled over the way Schmack characterized him and his office during the campaign.

“He sent me kind of a glib email saying he wants to talk to the people in my office,” Campbell said. “I just told everyone in my office that I had no problem with them trying to save their jobs.”

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