A passion to pursue criminal justice recently spurred Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney Reginald Mathews to become the sixth individual to declare candidacy to replace retiring prosecutor Mike Waller.
A North Chicago native and Lindenhurst resident, Mathews will face Libertyville resident and Lake Forest lawyer , as well as Highland Park native and Chicago attorney , in the March 20 Democratic primary.
On the Republican side, Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney of Lake Bluff will face off against Lake Barrington resident and Waukegan lawyer and of Gurnee.
Hayes, Nerheim and Mathews all have worked together at points during their tenures in the prosecutor’s office.
A 13-year veteran of the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office, Mathews said he has tried more than 100 cases with a conviction rate in excess of 75 percent. Despite his trial record, one of his recent successes occurred in August when he negotiated a guilty plea to put a rapist in jail for 22 years.
Mathews handled the prosecution of Eduardo Franco, two years ago on the Green Bay trail after the victim got off a Metra train at the Ravinia station.
“I want to stand up for every woman out there,” Mathews said. “The woman was brutally raped and still feels the effect to this day.”
Mathews recognizes that the state’s attorney’s office needs reform. He also believes his efforts over the last 13 years make him the best person to do it.
“When you come up hard the way I have, you have to work for everything,” Mathews said. “It makes me committed and unafraid. I have dedicated my life to working for the county. I know what needs to be addressed.”
Mathews grew up in North Chicago, where he was a football star for the Warhawks. He graduated with a criminal justice degree in 1995 from Western Illinois University, where he played four years of football.
After working three years as a probation officer with the Lake County Department of Adult Probation, he left to take a full scholarship to law school at Louisiana State University.
Drury, a federal prosecutor for seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney, disagreed that the state’s attorney’s office is the correct stepping stone. He believes the independence shown by his former boss, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, is the model for success.
“Lake County voters need to decide if they want a Patrick Fitzgerald for state’s attorney or more of the same,” Drury said. “He has been an independent prosecutor who has remained above the fray. I will be above the fray. That’s how I was taught.”
Fitzgerald was appointed to his post in 2001 by former President George W. Bush. He was one of the few Bush appointees President Barack Obama retained when he took office in 2009.
Kennedy believes his four years as an assistant in Waller’s office and his years of private practice are the right combination.
“Having served as a criminal prosecutor, combined with my civil experience, I have handled just about every kind of case a state’s attorney will ever encounter,” Kennedy said. “That breadth and depth of experience will give me perspective that no other candidate has.”
Kennedy also has proposed creating a conviction integrity unit to review past cases to determine whether a review is in order. Mathews wants all that work done before charges are ever filed.
“The state’s attorney has to be involved in high-profile cases to review the evidence before any decisions are made,” Mathews said. “The integrity should be before the case is filed.”
Kennedy expects the unit to handle old cases as well as reviewing recent convictions. “The (conviction integrity) unit will have authority to not only review and act on challenged convictions, but also to prosecute cold cases, where evidence identifies different or additional perpetrators,” Kennedy said.
While a law student, Mathews worked in the state’s attorney’s office as an intern during his summer vacations before becoming a full-time assistant state’s attorney upon graduation in 2001. He has held that job since, and now prosecutes felony criminal trials.
He lives in Lindenhurst with his wife, Andrea, and their four children.