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Milhiser: ‘Prioritizing public safety’ and ‘reducing violent crime’ is job one

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John C. Milhiser

John C. Milhiser

John Milhiser said he has a slightly different perspective returning as Sangamon County state’s attorney.

The 53-year-old Milhiser, who was nominated for the position by Sangamon County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter and was expected to be sworn in at Tuesday’s board meeting, served as state’s attorney from 2010 to 2018 before being appointed U.S. Attorney.

“I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity,” Milhiser said earlier Tuesday. “It’s a job that I understand how important it is. I want to make Sangamon County as safe as it possibly can be. I’m looking forward to that.

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“I’m in a unique position, having (previously) served as U.S. Attorney. I’ve worked not only with state and local partners but with federal partners in Illinois and around the country.”

Milhiser returned to the state’s attorney’s office in July in a part-time capacity. He earned the appointment after his successor, Dan Wright, was appointed Seventh Judicial Circuit associate judge last month.

Wright will be sworn in by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lisa Holder White in a ceremony in Sangamon County Courtroom 7C at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

Milhiser has made one decision already: he is circulating petitions to run for the office in the March 19, 2024, Republican primary. Springfield attorney Kent Gray also has said he intends to run for state’s attorney. The general election is Nov. 5.

The modern-day prosecutor, Milhiser said, is “a problem solver who needs to use all the tools in the toolbox and work with community partners in order to keep neighborhoods and our county safe.

“The state’s attorney has to prioritize public safety. Job one is to reduce violent crime and get violent criminals off the street.”

Reducing crime in communities also involves reducing recidivism, Milhiser said.

“If we truly want to reduce crime in the end, we have to put these individuals in the best position not to re-offend,” he said. “Oftentimes, people who come into the system have mental illnesses or they have drug issues. They have other issues going on in their lives and if we just send them out into the same environment without resources and expect different behavior, that doesn’t make much sense.”

Also very much on Milhiser’s mind is the rise of juvenile crime, which he said is at an almost epidemic proportion around the country.

“We have to figure out a way to reach these juveniles and get them on the path to being productive members of society, keeping them in school, training for jobs or other resources,” he said. “Unfortunately, some of these violent offenders are becoming younger and younger.”

Milhiser first started in the state’s attorney’s office in 1997 before leaving for private practice in 2003.

He returned to the office in 2008 as the first assistant state’s attorney and was appointed state’s attorney in 2010 when then-State’s Attorney John Schmidt was appointed a circuit judge.

Milhiser went on to win reelection in 2012 and 2016 before his appointment as U.S. attorney for the Central District of Illinois by then-President Donald Trump in 2018. That appointment was affirmed by the U.S. Senate in early 2019.

In that position, Milhiser oversaw the 2019 conviction of Brendt Christensen in the kidnapping and killing of Yingying Zhang, a Chinese doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the 2021 indictment of former state Sen. Sam McCann, R-Plainview, on wire fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion charges. McCann formerly represented the Illinois 50th Senate District, which includes parts of Springfield.

Milhiser resigned as U.S. attorney in February 2021 after Joe Biden defeated Trump in the November 2020 presidential election. It is not unusual for U.S. attorneys to leave their posts shortly after a new president from the opposing party takes office.

In the June 2022 GOP primary for Illinois secretary of state, Milhiser lost to former state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington. Former state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias defeated Brady in the general election.

Milhiser said it was “a different animal running for statewide office.”

Van Meter said Milhiser was “the obvious choice” for the state’s attorney job.

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One of the biggest changes since Milhiser started in the state’s attorney’s office 26 years ago?

“Obviously it’s technology and the role it plays in the investigation of cases,” Milhiser said, pointing to DNA, cell phones, and the use of body cameras worn by police officers. “It’s working with our IT partners to make sure that information is securely stored, and we have access to it.”

In the coming weeks, Milhiser also will have to select a new first assistant.

Derek Dion, who was in that role, is now with the Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate prosecutor. Dion will handle conflict cases and assist state’s attorneys across the state as a special assistant.

Milhiser and his wife, Gail Noll, a circuit judge, have two adult daughters.

Noll won’t be handling any criminal cases or any cases at all involving the state’s attorney’s office to avoid a conflict of interest.

Milhiser received his undergraduate degree from James Madison University and his law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law.

Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788; [email protected]; X, twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: John Milhiser was expected to be sworn-in as state’s attorney Tuesday

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