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IL: Prosecutor dodges ethics bullet by losing three-way race

By   /   January 14, 2013  /   No Comments

By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog

SPRINGFIELD — Lorinda Lamken did not commit an ethical violation because she lost to a non-incumbent in the race for Christian County State’s Attorney, her bosses at the Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutors office say.

INCUMBENT LOST, IN THE CLEAR: Lamken did not violate rules because incumbent prosecutor lost in primary

In a report issued Jan. 1o, the Illinois Auditor General said Lamken was close to crossing an ethical line, and called out Lamken’s office for violating their own policy by failing to require that she take a leave of absence while campaigning for the office last year.

Lamken filed to run for the top local prosecutor’s spot in Christian County in December 2011. Lamken should have told her bosses she was running for office, and then stepped aside, according to the employee handbook at the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutors Office.

The employee manual says: “When an employee of the Agency either seeks the office of State’s Attorney or actively manages or supports a political campaign of another for that office, the employee

shall request a leave of absence for the duration of the campaign in order to avoid a conflict

of interest or appearance of same.”

Lamken continues to work at the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutors office.

Jim Dahlquist, senior manager with the Auditor General’s office, makes it clear that Lamken is not being accused of campaigning on state time.

“It is important to note that our (investigation) did not show any instances of state time or state property was used (to campaign),” Dahlquist said “Our focus was directed only toward compliance with internal procedures and the agency’s own manual.”

Dahlquist says Lamken is not accused of violating local, state, or federal campaign laws, only the internal policy of the Appellate Prosecutors office.

HANDBOOK ONLY: Jones is quick to say auditors found only policy questions, no broken laws.

Matt Jones, associate director for the Appellate Prosecutors office, says it’s an argument over semantics.

Jones said lawyers at the Appellate Prosecutor’s office — and they’re almost all lawyers — interpreted the employee handbook to mean a conflict of interest exists only when an employee runs against an incumbent state’s‘ attorney.

“A state’s attorney is, by law, the Appellate Prosecutor client,” Jones said. “And it would be an ethical violation to run against a client.”

But then-incumbent Christian County State’s Attorney Tom Finks lost to Democrat Mike Havera in the March primary. Lamken than ran against Havera in the November general election.

Jones said even the four months when all three candidates were in the race, Lamken was in the clear.

“Because the incumbent had a primary opponent, it was never a certainty that she would be facing (Finks),” Jones said.

Jones is quick to say that the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutors Office has since clarified its handbook.

The new handbook says the Appellate Prosecutors office director will make a judgment call anytime an employee runs for office or in involved in a campaign.

Contact Benjamin Yount at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org.

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