By Leah Williams
This Election Day, Washington County will decide who will be vying for the Republican nomination for State’s Attorney.
Incumbent Dan Bronke and challenger Dan Janowski are both seeking the nod for the general election this November.
The Nashville News drafted a questionnaire for both candidates. Here are their responses:
Nashville News: What is your favorite thing about living in Washington County?
Bronke: My favorite thing about Washington County is the small town feel and general quietness of the County. There is no hustle and bustle. People are connected to one another and take the time to stop and say hello and talk to one another.
Janowski: My favorite thing about living in Washington County is the people and it’s civic life. I’m fortunate to have friends and family across the county, so there’s always a friendly face no matter where I go. And, our county provides some great opportunities to get out and meet new people through it’s active civic life. Churches, clubs, and community groups all have social events and fundraisers which bring our residents together. One doesn’t have to travel too far from Washington County to see the effects of communities without shared values and goals as expressed and achieved through an active civic life.
NN: What do you think qualifies you for State’s Attorney?
Bronke: I have been the State’s Attorney for the last 3 ½ years. Prior to being State’s Attorney I worked as an Assistant State’s Attorney in Jackson County for about 4 years. In between my jobs as a prosecutor I served both Washington and Jefferson Counties as a conflict Public Defender and regularly represented defendants in criminal court. I have over 12+ years of relevant on the job criminal law experience.
Janowski: My varied legal experience is what most qualifies me to be State’s Attorney. While in law school, I was fortune to extern for both Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier and then-State’s Attorney Julie Kozuszek. With Justice Karmeier, I was able to get a glimpse of how judges reach their decisions and the importance of clear legal writing in advocacy for a client. With Mrs. Kozuszek, I got my first taste of the courtroom and saw the day-to-day workings of the State’s Attorney’s Office. Following law school, I worked for five years in a general practice litigation firm in Mt. Vernon. There, I learned how to present evidence, quickly shift from case to case and from legal field to legal field, how to argue before judges with different styles and personalities, and how to deal with opposing counsel of all different stripes. In my last two-and-a-half years with the Office of the State Appellate Defender, I have gained an understanding of the procedure of criminal law and the substantive issues which are raised. Finally, having spent all my life in Washington County, except college and law school, gives me a deep understanding of the residents of the County, their concerns, and their values.
NN: What particular challenges do you think the Washington County office will face during the next few years?
Bronke: I see a few changes that the State’s Attorney’s Office will face in the coming years. First, the move toward being required to file charges online and not via paper hard copy. The court system in total is moving toward a more streamlined process and ultimately will be reducing the amount of paper that comes through the office. Second, I think the office will have to face possible budgetary cuts in the future as well, due to the county operating yearly in the deficit. At some point in the future the county board will cut department budgets to help balance the county’s budget. As the budget for the State’s Attorney’s office is more or less made up of employee salaries this could have potential to reduce office personnel with the remaining employees having to take on additional job duties to cover the gaps.
Janowski: The continued prevalence of narcotics is the biggest challenge. Unfortunately, there isn’t a foolproof way to address the crisis, so the best route is the conscientious and consistent handling of drug cases. As time goes on, new methods are developed to try and curb their usage, all with varying degrees of success. Everything at our disposal should be used to prevent individuals from using in the first place and then helping those who are addicted. Illegal drugs can also cause a host of other issues such as violence and theft, so they are the biggest challenge.
NN: The implementation of a state law allowing waivers for qualifying individuals making a certain amount above the poverty line has impacted the amount of fines that county state’s attorney offices have been able to collect. What do you think is an alternative way for the office to generate revenue?
Bronke: The role of the State’s Attorney is not one where you are to generate revenue for the County, it just happens to be a byproduct of the prosecution of criminal cases. With the criminal fee waivers there are less assessments that the County receives if the defendant is granted a full waiver. The only amounts that a defendant would generally have to pay if granted a full waiver would be restitution if asked for or a fine. State’s Attorneys across the State are dealing with this issue and wondering if asking for the maximum fine for each case will trigger the legislature to pass new laws that will restrict the amount of fines that can be charged, due to the reason for the waiver passage so that criminal defendants do not bear the cost of the criminal justice system.
One possible solution is to require criminal defendants to increase the amounts they can pay on their balances owed each month or making defendants pay what they owe either up front or within a short amount of time. The key will be actually getting payments to be made.
Janowski: Initially, it’s important to state that this legislation came from Springfield, so there’s little beyond advocacy that can change it. Secondly, I’d agree that revenue and cost is always a concern; however, the job of the State’s Attorney isn’t to solely generate revenue. It’s his job to bring defendants to justice and represent the County in civil legal matters. In the course of these responsibilities, fees have been generated because they are assessed to those who actually utilize the court system, whether the case is civil or criminal. So, revenue has been generated. With all that said, the options are limited. The cost-effective administration of justice is the ideal goal. In other words, an efficient office comes first. Secondly, Springfield needs to adequately fund the court system, but this is, as with everything from the State, questionable. So, advocacy through groups such as the Illinois State Bar Association is the best hope. Unfortunately, there are no good, readily-implementable solutions.
NN: What is your stance on the decriminalization of marijuana at the state level but remaining illegal at the federal? What implications could that have for the county as an employer?
Bronke: On paper the decriminalization of marijuana seems like a boon for the State and local economies. As we have seen in the news the State is making millions off the sales of marijuana. It remains to be seen if this is actually benefitting the counties themselves. How much revenue is being received monthly and is that revenue stream going to be sustained? What unknown expenses are the counties going to have to use these funds on and will the expenses outweigh the funds received? I personally see many problems in the future that the counties do not have solid direction from the State on yet in dealing with the marijuana issue. More headaches will come up for prosecutors and law enforcement before all is said and done with this issue.
The County can elect to remain a drug free workplace, so even though marijuana is legal in the State recreationally, the County can prohibit County employees from using marijuana while at work.
Janowski: Illinois is one of ten states plus the District is Columbia to legalize marijuana. By my calculations, over a quarter of the U.S. population lives in a state where marijuana is fully legalized. My stance is that the federal government, either through Congress or through a ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States, needs to reconcile this conflict. The federal system we live under won’t allow this discrepancy to last long. I’m all in favor of the federal government restricting its power in this area and returning this decision to the states. Unfortunately, the implications for the County as an employer are presently unknown because this issue is so new. The law has much grey area which will be decided by the courts over time. So, at this time, everything is on the table, but as a clearer picture develops, amendments to the requirements of employees will need to be made.
NN: Is there anything you would like to add?
Bronke: As your State’s Attorney here in Washington County, commence and prosecute all actions, suits, indictments and prosecutions, civil and criminal in the circuit court of Washington County in which the people of the State or county may be concerned. All total I have over 12 years of actual criminal law experience, over 7 years of which I have been a prosecutor. As the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for”. Experience matters in bringing criminals to justice and protecting the interests of Washington County. I am asking the voters of this county to vote for the experience I bring to the table on March 17th and to Vote for Bronke.
Janowski: I want to say thank you to everyone for their support thus far in the campaign. Your warm wishes keep me motivated. If elected I promise to give the Office everything I have, and I humbly ask for your vote in the Republican Primary in March 17.