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State’s Attorney Knapp touts 'broad' experience in circuit judge bid

Don Knapp speaking at news conference
WGLT file photo
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McLean County State's Attorney Don Knapp speaks with reporters during a news conference at Normal council chambers.

McLean County State’s Attorney Don Knapp says his legal experience as both a prosecutor and a civil attorney give him a unique blend of experience that qualifies him to be the next circuit judge for McLean and nearby counties.

“I’m the only lawyer in town that both wrote significant portions of the Rivian development agreement and also tried Aaron Parlier and convicted him and got the longest criminal sentence in the history of McLean County,” Knapp said during a recent WGLT interview about the judge’s race.

Knapp is running for a circuit judge seat in the 11th Judicial Circuit, which includes McLean, Woodford, Logan, Livingston and Ford counties. His opponent in the Republican primary is Associate Judge Amy McFarland. They are seeking to replace Paul Lawrence, who retired from the bench last year.

Knapp headed the civil division of the McLean County state’s attorney’s office prior to being named state’s attorney. In that role, Knapp handled the county’s contracts for development agreements involving Rivian and other businesses, including wind and solar farm operators. He said that experience would help him on the bench handle legal disputes.

Knapp said the county has cited over $1 billion worth of renewable energy projects without being sued during his time representing the county’s legal interests, even though not all projects won the county’s approval.

“Both sides must have felt they got a fair enough shake,” Knapp said.

Tough on crime?

Knapp has touted his office's record of securing convictions in 11 consecutive murder trials as McLean County state's attorney, but he stopped short of saying he would plan to be a “tough on crime” judge.

“Do I have a lot of law enforcement support? Absolutely. Tough on crime? I don’t know, I just think I would be someone who would hold people personally accountable within the bounds of the law,” Knapp said, adding that he has as times advocated for expanded deferred prosecution for some felony offenses, including some drug possession and fake ID use.

End of cash bail

Knapp said he doesn't believe the end of cash bail in Illinois will lead to more suspects being jailed while awaiting trial. Knapp said the criminal justice reform bill that takes effect next year has removed judges' discretion on pretrial detention for most criminal offenses.

“Could they potentially hold people at a higher rate so more people are in (custody)? Potentially, but I just don’t think there’s going to be that many eligible offenses that the pretrial detention is going go up,” he said, adding the Illinois lawmakers should have provided judges more leeway in determining who can be held without bond.

“I don’t know anybody in the criminal justice system, myself included, that thinks people should be locked up just because they are poor,” Knapp said.

Experience

McFarland would be one of four women judges in the 10-judge circuit if elected and has stressed the court needs to be move diverse to be better reflective of the population. Knapp countered his background provides a diversity of experience that’s necessary for the job.

“I’ve worked in a cornfield in Illinois and I’ve worked in the middle of the Robert Taylor Homes (public housing project in Chicago), so as we talk about the breadth of my career and the breadth of the topics I have dealt with, also there’s diversity of perspective,” Knapp said.

Early voting is under way ahead of the June 28 primary. The general election will be held Nov. 8.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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