Christiansen, Logli smooth out State’s Attorney differences

Following much ruckus in the media over comments regarding the effectiveness of the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s office, many held their breath as outgoing State’s Attorney Paul Logli (R) made his remarks during the Aug. 9 County Board meeting.

Logli, who has served in that office since 1986, was recognized with a plaque the night before he was sworn in as a Circuit Court judge. Attorney Phil Nicolosi (R) was sworn in as Logli’s successor the same day.

During the County Board Republican Caucus’s process of naming a new appointee for State’s Attorney, a number of statements were made, implying much improvement is desired in that office.

Logli began with a joke, in standard form, about how sad many board members must be to know this would probably be the last time he’d be addressing the body.

“Don’t make me come back and have you restore the Financial Compliance Unit budget either!” Logli jested, to much laughter.

“You don’t get into this line of work for plaques, praise or the pay,” Logli continued. “We do it because, in our hearts, we want to better our communities. We want to serve our neighbors. We want to improve the quality of life and the safety for all of the citizens.”

As his comments went on, however, one got the sense Logli was directly responding to the recent allegations questioning the efficiency of him and his staff.

“I believe I’ve earned the right to speak candidly and respectfully to this body,” Logli said. “In the last several days, I’ve spoken to Chairman Christiansen. We had a very nice visit yesterday, and we both agree it’s time to move on.”

When Christiansen announced Nicolosi as his choice, the chairman indicated an immediate need for change in the State’s Attorney’s office—namely in reducing the ever-present threat of jail overcrowding in the brand new Winnebago County Justice Center. The new facility is staffed to accommodate 800 prisoners and already has more than 700.

“That’s a problem, and that’s a problem that’s gotta end now,” Christiansen indicated. “It needs to start with this office.

“We need a State’s Attorney that will aggressively prosecute criminals, and that needs to be the buzzword of that office from top to bottom,” the chairman argued. “I’ve got some very specific ideas on what needs to happen in that office in terms of organization and administrative functions.”

When Christiansen reported a complete audit would be performed on the State’s Attorney’s office, many interpreted it as a slap to Logli’s face. Christiansen, however, said the audit was standard procedure.

“I would also like to deploy our Human Resources Department to do a critical skills analysis,” the chairman added, “to look at overall staffing effectiveness.”

During his Aug. 9 remarks to the board, Logli was quick to defend the dedication and loyalty of the staff he’d leave in the care of Nicolosi the following day.

“I hope that loyalty is recognized. I hope it’s acknowledged,” Logli asked. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the people of Winnebago County are safer because of the work of the lawyers, investigators, support staff, victim advocates of the State’s Attorney’s office.

“Things were reported in the media which would seem to question the State’s Attorney’s office’s effectiveness, organization and aggressiveness,” Logli said. “Let me just say, on behalf of the people who I’ve had the privilege of working with, every lawyer in the State’s Attorney’s office has a caseload. Every lawyer in the State’s Attorney’s office goes to court.”

During his interview before the caucus, Nicolosi alleged otherwise and argued a need for change. Nicolosi’s previous experience in the State’s Attorney’s office is limited to an internship.

“My big concern with the staffing in that office right now are the roles that specific attorneys have,” Nicolosi told board Republicans. “I’m concerned that…there are several attorneys there that, although they have law degrees and were hired as state’s attorneys, they do not go to court, and they do not have their own caseload. Now, I’m not sure what the rationale was behind that.

“There’s a couple, specifically, that I can think of that are in strictly administrative positions,” Nicolosi added. “I’m not sure what experience these people have administratively for the positions that they’re in.”

Nicolosi told the caucus he’d been approached by friends and colleagues in the State’s Attorney’s office who’d expressed: “A lot of frustration…that they’re busting their butt, doing the absolute best that they can, and there’s attorneys in there that have absolutely no case load whatsoever, and they’re trying to tell these lower and mid-tier people how to conduct themselves in court.”

Citing a recent figure that 80 percent of the inmates housed in the jail are awaiting trial, Nicolosi argued: “There has to be a more concerted effort. I just don’t think that concerted effort has been done yet.”

Logli also reported having spoken with Nicolosi in the final days leading up to their new appointments.

“I’m confident that he understands and that he accepts the importance of the State’s Attorney’s office,” Logli asserted. “He’s going to work hard, and I know he’s gonna give it his best. I wish him nothing but success in his administration.

“A prosecutor’s office must maintain its integrity and its independence. Any prosecutor who allows either to be compromised does not deserve to remain in office. I know that Mr. Nicolosi’s committed to both these principles.”

Logli and Nicolosi began their new career ventures Aug. 10. Christiansen, Logli and Nicolosi will fight to retain their seats in 2008.

from the Aug 15-21, 2007, issue

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