Quick Hits – The State’s Attorney’s Race Just Got a Lot More Interesting!

Quick Hits – The State’s Attorney’s Race Just Got a Lot More Interesting!

For those who’ve missed my dulcet tones wafting along the morning airwaves, your fondest wish is about to come true! Tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. I’ll be pushing ‘So You Want to Win a Local Election’ on Elgin’s own WRMN AM1410 radio.

Yes! That means I’ll be back with former Ward & Jones co-host extraordinaire, Larry Jones, and the inimitable Mark “Marky B” Bialek for a half hour of rousing conversation. You really don’t want to miss this one folks!

If you didn’t keep that old transistor radio, you most certainly can listen to WRMN online!

That likely means this column will supplant Wednesday’s Quick Hits! We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming!


The State’s Attorney’s Race Just Got a Lot More Interesting!

State’s Attorney Joe McMahon’s decision not to run in 2020 sent the entire Kane County Republican Party scrambling to find a replacement. And their search was particularly frenetic because an exceptional Democratic candidate, Jamie Mosser, had already announced and anyone with half a brain knows 2020 is going to be the year of the Democratic woman.

So, when KCSAO Felony chief Bill Engerman started plying the phones in an effort to garner electoral support, the GOP silence was deafening. Engerman has more skeletons in his closet than Jeffrey Dahmer and the local Republicans knew he couldn’t beat Mosser.

Other Republicans tried to recruit Amanda Hamilton, a partner at Geneva’s Konicek and Dillon law firm, but while she’s certainly a fine attorney with a stellar CV, and she’s a much more presentable candidate that Engerman would ever be, she’s a mere 34 years old. And no 34-year-old is ready to head into that dysfunctional morass of a state’s attorney’s office and set things straight. She’s never been a prosecutor either, which would make the gig even more difficult.

So, let’s see if you’ve been paying attention, class! What’s does politics, like nature, abhor? That’s right! A vacuum! And this particular “vacuum” was powerful enough to drew former 16th Circuit and current Second District Appellate Court Judge Robert “Bob” Spence directly into it.

For those of you who don’t follow judicial careers, Spence, 63, a Bloomington, Illinois, native, received his J.D. from John Marshall Law School, served as an ASA for 14 years, and an assistant attorney general for six more. He was appointed to the 16th Circuit in 2001, was voted Chief Judge in 2011, and he’s been “on loan” to the aforementioned Appellate Court since 2012.

Bob Spence

Though I’ve had a little journalistic fun with his meteoric judicial rise coming in great part as a result of his long friendship with Illinois Supreme Court Justice Bob Thomas, the truth is, I’ve never heard a bad word about his honor and all judgeship nominations are all about who you know.

And Justice Thomas clearly has good taste because there aren’t many Northern Illinois attorneys who don’t respect and revere Spence, and when you consider just how bizarrely incestuous the justice system is, that’s an incredibly rare accomplishment.

So, why is a man of Spence’s stature coming back to little old Kane County to run for state’s attorney, a job with more headaches than Donald Trump’s wives somehow get every evening? Who’d take a 25 percent pay cut to manage a huge but understaffed office, which regularly reports to the most bizarre County Board I’ve ever covered?

It’s the kind of thing that makes me believe Mr. Spence could use the services of a duly licensed psychotherapist.

To that end, I dug a little deeper, and believe it or not, in a turn even a bit too ironic for me, it all comes down to the same KCSAO sexual harassment scandal The First Ward has been working on for the better part of a year. And there’s a great lesson in humility in it for yours truly as well.

For those who don’t regularly read Quick Hits, I’m in the process of suing the KCSAO to force them to abide by an Attorney General’s ruling requiring them to turn over 255 pages of sexual harassment complaints against just one former prosecutor. Joe McMahon, who firmly believes his office is above the law, continues to defy that ruling.

So, here’s the connection.

One of the brave KCSAO sexual harassment victims not only came to me for help, but she also approached Judge Spence. Being a reason able man, either Spence, or he and Justice Thomas, met with McMahon and insisted he fire this prosecutor and dispense with the office “Boy’s Club.”

He or they told McMahon he was doing himself and the office a disservice by failing to address the harassment.

“But Jeff! Get to the humility part. We love it when folks take you down a notch or two! Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m gettin’ there!

I believed The First Ward was the catalyst for this prosecutor’s termination. Word was McMahon was terrified the explicit text that finally did him in would fall into my hands, and then it would go public. In my defense, had McMahon not canned him, four other ASAs were ready to turn over the text and that would’ve forced his hand.

But it never got to that point.

That means the prosecutor wasn’t fired because of me, he was fired because Judge Spence applied his typical due diligence and shamed McMahon into doing the right thing. Lord! Just when I thought my estimation of our State’s Attorney had finally bottomed out, it manages to plummet even further.

That revelation finally brings us full circle to our question. Aside from a mental defect, why would Bob Spence run for Kane County State’s Attorney?

On a simpler level, the life of an appellate court judge generally consists of reading legal briefs hour after hour, day after day, month after month, and year after year. Sure, you get the occasionally interesting oral argument, but for the most part, it’s not the most scintillating work.

Apparently, after 18 years on the bench, Spence wants to get back to his prosecutor roots. And word is, he wants to clean house and return the State’s Attorney’s Office to some semblance of the respect it had before McMahon almost destroyed it.

What that means is some major KCSAO heads will roll regardless of who prevails in 2020.

This doesn’t mean anyone’s handing Spence the race on a silver platter. Like most judges, he’s not the best campaigner having lost two 16th Circuit elections before he was finally appointed and won the requisite race to remain a full circuit judge. And it would be a huge mistake for Spence and the local GOP to underestimate Mosser who actually knows how to run a county-wide campaign.

Like I said! It will be interesting!

5 thoughts on “Quick Hits – The State’s Attorney’s Race Just Got a Lot More Interesting!

  1. If Justice Spence’s track record of running for office is true why is it that Engerman and Hamilton are willing to step aside. If he can be beat then my support goes to Mosser

    1. Susan,

      It’s all about perception! And the perception is that Spence can’t be beaten simply because of what he’s accomplished – and that’s probably true in a Republican primary to some extent.

      Most candidates don’t understand that, as I regularly say, “the choir never elected anyone” and it’s a huge mistake that leads to a lot of losses. Bob Spence is respected among attorneys, but if you asked 50 random Kane Countians who he is, perhaps 1 would know.

      It’s also true that Engerman and Hamilton are “bad” candidates. Engerman has far too much baggage, and while Ms. Hamilton is an excellent attorney, she’s too young and she’s never been a prosecutor.


  2. How does this work, if Judge Spence is to run for KCSAO? He cannot be a judge and be a candidate for political office, so he would have to give up his circuit judge seat PRIOR to becoming a KCSAO candidate. The first day to circulate petitions for March is the day after Labor Day, September 3.

    So will Judge Spence tender his notice of judicial resignation, effective August 30th to the Chief Judge soon? That would also create a circuit judge vacancy for next year’s election, and a circuit judge will need to replace him at the appellate court (though that replacement need not come from Kane County)?

    You don’t think outgoing KCSAO Joe McMahon would get the Spence judicial vacancy from Supreme Court Justice Bob Thomas in order to make the transition a smooth one, do you?

    1. Dear Former,

      There’s no if, he is going to 100 percent run. And you are correct that that means he resigns as an appellate and 16th Circuit judge. I would assume that, as soon as he announces, he will notify the Chief Judge.

      It won’t exactly create a vacancy because they had to fill his spot with an associate judge, one of which will likely move up to full circuit judge. But that does mean a new associate judge will have to be appointed.

      As far as Joe McMahon goes, my sources tell me he’s doing nothing to secure any sort of judgeship. And with the revelation that Spence made him fire our errant prosecutor, I don’t think he stands a shot in hell of becoming a Kane County judge.

      Revenge is a dish best served cold, right?


  3. Don’t have to fill his seat from an associate spot. Can fill it with any attorney. Lots of associates want to move up but then they run risk of losing job in next election. Unless deal struck so there is no primary and is a safe seat lots of associates happy to stay where they are. And if this guy is in tight with Bob Thomas if he loses he probably would just be re appointed

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