State’s Attorney race across court lines

By Mark Rivera

Two women, one courtroom.

This year’s Champaign County State’s Attorney election is more than just a race across party lines. It’s a race across courtroom lines as well.

Janie Miller-Jones, Republican from Rantoul, Ill., is running against Julia Rietz, the incumbent Champaign Democrat. Miller-Jones operates as the senior assistant Champaign public defender, defending individuals charged with murder, obstruction of justice, burglary and theft. She has served 14 years in the National Guard and earned her law degree from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in 1999.

According to Julia Reitz’s re-election Web site, the duties of the Champaign County state’s attorney are to charge and prosecute everything from murder and obstruction of justice to burglary. Rietz won the state’s attorney’s office in 2004, created the delinquent court cost recovery program to bring back unpaid court fines, and works as the board chair of the Champaign Children’s Advocacy Center.

The state’s attorney can have a direct influence on the lives of students, said Andrew Leipold, law professor at the University.

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“The question is, do you trust the person’s judgment?” Leipold said.

Miller-Jones has handled criminal felonies for six years, and according to her Web site, “It has become very apparent to me that our system is not in fact ‘fair and balanced.'”

She feels she can change this as state’s attorney.

As a public defender, Miller-Jones deals with many of the same people that work with Reitz and her office on a daily basis. Both deal with the families of the prosecuted and the victims, county officials, judges and police. According to both candidates, their main goals are to do justice, not simply to go for a conviction.

Rietz listed some of her main issues as state’s attorney and regarding the election as juvenile delinquency, prevention issues and gang activities. “Lately we’ve been seeing a rise in gang activity here,” Rietz said. “It’s local, home-grown gangs, and right now they’re doing a lot of turf fighting.”

An issue that Miller-Jones said she was concerned with on her election Web site is re-establishing the “Bad Check Restitution Program,” a program devoted to recovering money lost from businesses due to bad checks.

Reitz said she had looked into this program. “I’m not interested in being check collectors for Wal-Mart,” she said.

Another issue Miller-Jones listed is her concern with community outreach and education by the state’s attorney’s office.

“Crime prevention is the responsibility of the whole community, and the State’s Attorney has a duty to be involved,” according to Miller-Jones’ Web site. She also added that she plans to meet with community leaders, police officers and social service agencies to determine rising issues and the best way to get the word out about them.

Rietz acknowledged that she works closely with the community.

“We’re very interested in trying to give people that chance to have a clean record and move forward,” she said. Rietz also added that she has lectured on topics ranging more widely than how to act when being arrested.

Thomas F. Koester, attorney at Phebus & Koester, said he thought Rietz would win by a landslide.

“She hasn’t made any major blunders during her first term,” Koester said. “She defeated the former two-term incumbent.”