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Top prosecutor settles in

Alternative courts, staffing changes planned in office

Published: Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 10:29 a.m. CDT
Caption
Anna Sacco-Miller

DIXON – Anna Sacco-Miller closed the door of her private practice for the last time Friday.

The Dixon attorney has kept up the practice at 140 S. Peoria Ave. for the past 8 years, handling cases ranging from criminal and traffic to divorce and child custody.

On Monday, she will get the keys to a brand new office when she is sworn in as the county’s top prosecutor.

“I’m excited about the new challenges,” she said.

The 45-year-old Republican beat Democratic incumbent Henry Dixon with nearly 60 percent of the vote in the general election Nov. 6.

Sacco-Miller is no stranger to the state’s attorney’s office. She was an assistant state’s attorney under Dixon’s wife, Linda Giesen, and for a short time under Paul Whitcombe.

When she takes over Monday, she will do so with some familiar faces in the office.

Peter Buh, chief of the office’s felony division, will stay on as a part-time assistant, and newly hired Stacey Wittman, a full-time assistant who handles felony cases, also will remain.

Sacco-Miller has hired two other assistants: Matthew Klahn, an attorney with Mertes and Mertes in Sterling, and Robert Kosic, a recent graduate of the Northern Illinois University College of Law.

Two of Dixon’s assistants, Bill Brozovich and Panorea Tsilimigras, will leave the staff, although Brozovich will remain until at least Dec. 15 to help with the transition, Sacco-Miller said.

She declined to say why the two attorneys would not return.

In the interim period, Sacco-Miller has interviewed the current office staff, attended county board and some committee meetings, and spoken with some police agencies and county board members.

One change Sacco-Miller intends to make is to train her attorneys to pick up any case at a moment’s notice and be able to handle it in the courtroom, rather than ask for a delay in the case.

“If somebody is sick, I need somebody to be able to pick up a file and walk in and handle it, rather than ask for a continuance, because that slows things down,” she said.

She says other changes are intended to make the first pretrial conference “meaningful” in each case.

“It speeds up the process and makes the office more efficient,” she said.

Communication also is key, she said. To foster communication between attorneys, she plans to have weekly staff meetings to review serious cases and issues that arise in the office.

She also wants to see more alternative courts, such as a juvenile drug court, veterans court, and mental health court.

In a tough economy, Sacco-Miller said, other resources must be tapped, such as state and federal grants or reaching out to local faith-based groups.

The county already has drug court, which was established here in 2005 and has had more than 20 graduates.

When she takes over the office, she plans to pre-screen defendants immediately upon arrest to see whether they quality for the drug court program and, if so, refer them to the probation department for a formal screening.

“It’s going to get the problem addressed quicker and move the process along,” Sacco-Miller said. “When you identify the problem early on as opposed to waiting for someone to raise it, you’re ideally going to get them help sooner, rather than later.”

To be eligible for the confidential program, participants must be facing a felony charge, have a nonviolent criminal history, and be dedicated to their recovery. They must attend treatment, find a job, make all their court appearances, submit to random drug tests three times a week, observe curfews, and meet with a probation officer weekly. They also pay a monthly fee.

If they successfully complete the program, the offense is expunged from their record. 

Her counterpart in Whiteside County, newly elected State’s Attorney Trish Joyce, also expressed an interest in establishing alternative courts.

Sacco-Miller said she would like to partner with Whiteside, and possibly Ogle County, to share resources.

The office has a number of serious cases pending, including the 60 counts of theft against former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell in the disappearance of more than $11 million in city funds since January 2010, according to prosecutors.

She already has pleaded guilty to federal wire fraud, a scheme she admitting using to steal nearly $54 million from the city since 1990. She will be sentenced Feb. 14.

Sacco-Miller said she intends to go to the sentencing. The Crundwell case, Sacco-Miller said, is one that she hopes will deter others from committing a similar crime.

“You look at the harm done, and obviously stealing the amount of money she stole from the community harmed a lot of people, not physically, but we don’t have a lot of things we could have,” she said.

While she promised in her campaign to be active in the courtroom, Sacco-Miller said she doesn’t intend to ignore the County Board or its issues.

She said she has told board members that she will be their “go-to person” but has not dismissed the possibility of later delegating some of those responsibilities to another attorney.

“Our constituents and their issues are very important,” she said, “so they deserve the attention they need.”

Joyce takes over in Whiteside

Pick up Wednesday's edition of the Telegraph and Daily Gazette to read about newly elected Whiteside County State's Attorney Trish Joyce's transition into the office.

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