Joe Birkett, the DuPage County state's attorney who ran unsuccessfully for Illinois attorney general in 2002, has been in the news a lot lately, most recently getting front-page coverage in The Chicago Tribune when he announced an indictment in a notorious 1983 murder case in Naperville.
But Birkett is not making the news that he wanted. The 51-year-old veteran prosecutor, who had hoped to be running for the Republican nomination for governor, recently opted not to join the campaign because he said he does not have the time required to raise the money necessary to run for statewide office.
"I really got hurt by that five months Jim Edgar and Judy Baar Topinka spent sitting on the fence," said Birkett.
He noted that potential donors to his campaign "didn't want to write two checks," one for him and one for either Edgar or Topinka, so they didn't write any.
"You can't blame people for that attitude," Birkett said.
Despite that disappointment, Birkett said he is "relieved" to have that issue behind him and sounded philosophical about his experience traveling the state to test the waters.
"It's just not my time," he said.
Birkett is in the middle of another term as state's attorney of DuPage County, a job that it appears he can hold as long as he wants. He said he has a "full plate" running the office, including pending prosecutions of a series of high-profile murder cases.
Most prominent among them is the indictment this week of Brian Dugan, who's serving a life sentence for two other murders, in connection with the 1983 murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico. Authorities originally charged three other men in connection with the case, and controversy over what shows every sign of being a miscarriage of justice has haunted DuPage County prosecutors and police officers for 20 years.
Two of the three men were convicted twice and had their convictions overturned twice before the prosecution fell apart under the weight of conflicting evidence. Most problematic for the prosecutors were Dugan's claims, through a lawyer, that he was responsible and that authorities were pursuing the wrong suspects.
This week, Birkett, who was elected state's attorney in 1996, announced that authorities were able to link Dugan to the killing through DNA evidence and will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.
Further, he said he intends to play an active role in the prosecution of the case.
"I will supervise the trial team, and I will probably be in court some of the time," Birkett said.
Despite the demands of his job, Birkett said he's still interested in pursuing statewide office and could well do so again. He mentioned 2008, when Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is up for re-election, and 2010, when the attorney general's and governor's offices will be up.
Meanwhile, he said he's extremely disappointed that Republicans seeking the governor's office are engaged in personal attacks, most notably against state treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, instead of running on their "ideals and principles."
"I don't appreciate the attack style that some of our candidates have glommed onto," Birkett said. "We don't need to be beating each other up."
Birkett lost a close 2002 race for attorney general to Democrat Lisa Madigan, daughter of powerful House Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan. At one point, his leftover campaign debt was $750,000, but Birkett said "we've knocked it down," although it is not eliminated.
Birkett emphasized that while deciding not to run for governor he enjoyed the public appearances he made and felt he was well received.
"I had great feedback," he said. "I ran out of time. I just couldn't raise the money."