Libertyville resident and Lake Forest attorney Chris Kennedy announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Lake County State’s Attorney, surrounded by more than 40 elected officials and supporters Thursday on the steps of Cook Memorial Library in Libertyville.
Kennedy, 43, is a former Lake County assistant state’s attorney and is a partner in the Lake Forest law firm Kennedy, Pierson & Strachan LLP. He has practiced law for 17 years. He is also in his second term as a member of Libertyville District 70 School Board.
Kennedy is the first person to announce his candidacy for the county’s top prosecutor. Incumbent State’s Attorney Michael Waller, a Republican who has served since 1990, has not said whether he will seek another term.
Although Waller hired Kennedy when he graduated on a scholarship from Chicago’s John Marshall Law School in 1994, opposing his former boss did not enter into Kennedy’s decision.
“I run to restore to the office its purpose and its moral imperative to pursue equal justice for all,” Kennedy said. “For too long, questions have been raised about DNA evidence resulting in accusations of injustice, compromised public safety and unnecessary taxpayer expense.”
Kennedy plans to create a conviction integrity unit as his first order of business to review past DNA cases, monitor procedures in current prosecutions to avoid wrongful prosecutions and to bolster cases that need assistance.
“I want a conviction integrity unit where DNA is involved like other offices have,” Kennedy said.
While working as an assistant state’s attorney, Kennedy tried more than 25 cases before a jury, more than 50 in front of a judge with no jury and handled hundreds of other matters, according to Don Morrison of Libertyville.
Morrison and Kennedy were law school classmates who began their careers at the Lake County State’s Attorney’s office a day apart in 1994. Morrison, who joined speaking before Kennedy made his formal announcement, praised his friend’s ability to make difficult decisions.
“When Chris (Kennedy) prosecuted a case where somebody deserved to be punished, he worked extra hard to make sure they went to jail,” Morrison said. “When he had a defendant who could be rehabilitated, he made sure resources were available to make them a contributor to society.”
Morrison also told the group Kennedy was willing to make the “unpopular decision” when evidence was not strong enough to warrant a prosecution.
May, who emceed the event, praised Kennedy’s compassion and efforts lobbying on behalf of people in need.
“I first met Chris Kennedy as an advocate for the most vulnerable in our society,” May said. “He has shown his compassion for the people of Lake County and the state of Illinois.”
During his speech, Kennedy also described firsthand how a victim of crime can feel. A 24-year-old cousin, Hillary Johnson, was raped and murdered in Memphis in 1999 by a man with a long criminal history.
“Besides the emotional loss, it’s very easy to feel excluded from the process,” Kennedy said of the experience. “A prosecutor must work hard to include victims and their rights in a case.”
A native of the Bronx, Kennedy earned an undergraduate degree from Binghamton State University of New York before heading to Chicago and John Marshall. While there, he met his wife, Lisa. They moved to Libertyville after graduation and have three children.
Kennedy also has been endorsed by , and Lake County Recorder Mary Ellen Vanderventer, among others, who were present.