SYCAMORE – The race for DeKalb County state’s attorney likely will be the most watched countywide contest in the November election.
Incumbent DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack is campaigning on his record, attempting to fend off a challenge from candidate Rick Amato, a Republican who is counting on door-to-door campaigning and support from law enforcement to unseat his opponent.
Both candidates were on the campaign trail Monday, with the courthouse closed for Columbus Day.
The two lawyers have widely divergent views on some issues, but they share common ground on others.
For example, both candidates are concerned about the heroin problem in DeKalb County and support treatment for addicts rather than incarceration. They also both support the use of specialty courts, such as drug court and mental health courts.
Amato beat out two other candidates for the Republican nomination in the spring. During that contest, Amato steered clear of criticizing Schmack. Recently, he has taken direct aim at the incumbent. Amato said he has the endorsement of two police unions – those representing Sycamore police and DeKalb County sheriff’s deputies.
“I plan on re-establishing the State’s Attorney’s Office as a dynamic member of a law enforcement team that DeKalb County can be proud of,” Amato said in response to a questionnaire from the Daily Chronicle. “I plan on running an office that is centered on service to our community.”
If elected, he also said he plans to “reinstate a full felony review process.” He said Schmack’s office doesn’t have such a process in place.
“Without a proper procedure, cases are often overcharged, resulting in cases pending for long periods of time, only to have the charges eventually lowered to a less serious charge or dismissed, which devalues the seriousness of the offenses,” Amato said. “A thorough felony review process will help alleviate overcharging and make sure that our community is being justly served.”
Schmack disputed the notion that Amato was the clear choice of law enforcement.
“I have support from many law enforcement officers,” he said during an interview Monday. “I feel like we have a good working relationship with all of the local law enforcement agencies.”
He said that the state’s attorney’s office can’t always work in “lockstep with law enforcement” and that there are occasional disagreements about charging decisions and other issues. However, he said his office works well with police agencies.
Schmack, a Democrat, also said that his office does have a felony review process and that cases aren’t being consistently overcharged.
He said suggested charges from police are reviewed daily by prosecutors. In some cases, charges may be amended as more information comes to light after an arrest, as he said it would be unethical for prosecutors to knowingly file charges that they had no chance of proving.
Schmack successfully challenged former State’s Attorney Clay Campbell in 2012 and is running for re-election for the first time.
The most stark contrast between the two candidates on the Daily Chronicle’s questionnaire came in response to a question about equality in the criminal justice system. Both candidates were asked, “Do people with limited financial means get equal treatment in the criminal justice system?”
Amato said yes, in DeKalb County, they do. Schmack said “Absolutely not. Simple buying power guarantees that the very wealthy have an enormous advantage when they or their families are charged with a crime.”
If elected to a second four-year term, Schmack said he would like to see the implementation of a probation program that he has been pushing for over the past two years.
“Community supervision under probation remains the proper and safe sentence for almost all nonviolent offenders,” Schmack said. “Unfortunately, roughly 10 percent of probationers are chronically noncompliant. They are a giant drag on the court system, clogging the felony calendar with unending violation hearings.
“Judges, prosecutors, public defenders and police are impeded from moving forward with speedy trials on new and more serious cases. These delays threaten public safety. For the past two years, I have been advocating that DeKalb County institute a vigorously monitored probation system like the HOPE Program utilized statewide in Hawaii.”
In addition to other initiatives, Amato said he would make training a priority.
“I will put a great emphasis on training and education to have an office that is fundamentally sound and cutting edge with its prosecutions and programs,” he said.