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Third Candidate Enters Lake County State’s Attorney Race

Mike Nerheim announces his intent to enter the Republican primary against Bryan Winter. Chris Kennedy remains sole Democrat in campaign.

Lake County native Mike Nerheim, 37, took a step closer to fulfilling a lifelong dream Tuesday when he became a candidate for the Republican nomination for in the March primary. 

Nerheim joined another long time Lake County resident, , in the growing Republican field to succeed retiring Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Waller. Libertyville resident and Lake Forest attorney is the sole Democratic candidate so far. 

Nerheim, who like Winter grew up in Waukegan, began his career in the Lake County State’s Attorney’s office as an intern while an undergraduate at Wionona State University. Nerheim and his family now reside in Gurnee. 

“I answered phones and filed cases,” Nerheim said of his internship. “I knew (then) I wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement.” After graduating from The John Marshall Law School in Chicago in 2000, he became an assistant state’s attorney for Waller.

Serving Everyone

Though he has spent the last four years in private practice with the firm of Fox, Lunardi, Zeit & Nerheim in Waukegan, he sees the job as the county’s top prosecutor as one of its most important offices. 

“You have an opportunity to serve everyone; victims, witnesses and defendants,” Nerheim said. His work for Waller gave him part of the background he needed and his private practice provides the rest.

“Knowing both sides better prepares you,” Nerheim said. “As an assistant state’s attorney I saw cases from the standpoint of victims and law enforcement. As a defense attorney I have represented hundreds or even thousands of people charged with crimes.” 

Nerheim has also tried a wide range of cases from traffic offenses to murders. He has learned every case is important regardless of how the state classifies its severity. 

“If you’re the victim it’s important to you,” Nerheim said. “To that victim a car break in may be the worst thing that’s ever happened. That person has to know it will be taken care of.” 

Top Issues for Nerheim

Kennedy has said one of his first priorities if elected would be creating a conviction integrity unit to review past DNA cases, monitor procedures in current prosecutions to avoid wrongful prosecutions and to bolster cases that need assistance. Winter thinks it is a good idea and so does Nerheim. 

“One of the first things I will do if I’m elected is put together a unit of retired judges, law enforcement, defense attorneys and prosecutors as a voluntary unit,” Nerheim said. “They will look at old cases to see if they are important. New cases will be an issue too, not only old ones.” 

Nerheim has known Winter most of his career and does not believe any past relationships will be an issue in the upcoming primary. “I consider him a friend and anticipate a very clean race,” Nerheim said. “We’ll all focus on the issues.” 

Winter was not surprised when Nerheim entered the race and would not be alarmed if more candidates joined them or entered the Democratic primary to challenge Kennedy.

“An open seat always attracts high interest,” Winter said. “I am confident the voters will do their homework and decide which candidate has the most leadership experience. I will be positive in my campaign.” Waller has been in office 22 years. 

Running on the Republican Ticket

While Kennedy, Nerheim and Winter all consider the state’s attorney’s office a non political position, Nerheim feels more comfortable running on the Republican ticket. 

“I’ve grown up with Republican values. I’m a fiscal conservative,” Nerheim said. “State’s attorney is a unique office in that it should not be political. It has no place for politics,” he added. 

Kennedy did not return a call to Patch for comments on Nerheim’s candidacy.

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