Springfield State Journal Register

November 11, 2005

Lawmaker wants to be U.S. attorney
State senator isn't seeking re-election


WASHINGTON - A Republican state senator from Urbana who has no prosecutorial experience is seeking to become the U.S. attorney for central Illinois.

Rick Winkel said he was encouraged to submit his application to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican from Yorkville, by three Illinois congressmen - Republican Reps. Tim Johnson of Urbana, John Shimkus of Collinsville and Jerry Weller of Morris.

"I would guess there will be several qualified applicants," Winkel said Thursday. "It's going to be a competitive process."

As the state's top-ranking Republican, Hastert makes recommendations to President Bush. Hastert is expected to consult with Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat.

Hastert aides didn't return telephone calls on the issue.

The current U.S. attorney, Jan Paul Miller, announced Tuesday that he is leaving the post Nov. 30 to join a St. Louis law firm. Miller has been the U.S. attorney since January 2002. Before that, he was an assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland.

Until Miller's replacement is confirmed, an interim U.S. attorney is expected to be appointed for the central Illinois district, which is based in Springfield. The central district also has offices in Peoria, Urbana and Rock Island. The job pays $140,300.

Winkel, 49, practiced law before he was elected to the Illinois House, where he served from 1995 to 2003. He was elected to the state Senate in 2002.

"Tim believes (Winkel) has a great legal mind and, above all, the character and integrity that are critical for that job," said Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer.

But Durbin said, "The fact that he's been in the legislature would not qualify him alone. I would just hope that there's more in his background if he's a serious nominee."

B. Mahlon Brown III, executive director of the National Association of Former U.S. Attorneys, said experience as a prosecutor isn't a prerequisite.

"Some of the best ones have no experience," said Brown, who was a defense lawyer before he became a U.S. attorney.

Durbin said he barely knows Winkel, but he said he would consider his resume if Johnson recommends him.

"But at this point, it's a decision most likely to be made by Speaker Hastert and the White House. Once that decision gets made, it would come through the (Senate) Judiciary Committee," Durbin said, noting that Hastert has indicated he wants to consult with him.

"If it's a nominee I can support, it will make the process go more smoothly," said Durbin, who is a member of the Judiciary Committee.

But one Republican familiar with the process said Winkel might be a tough sell. Former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., set up a formidable standard when he went outside the state to select Miller and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald for the northern region. When he recommended Miller in 2001, Fitzgerald said he wanted someone who was "independent, not an insider . . . someone not beholden to anybody."

Winkel had announced in August that he won't seek re-election to the state Senate next year. He said he needed a career change.

While he didn't have the U.S. attorney's job in mind at the time, he said it "would be a dream job. ... It would be a wonderful opportunity to serve the people of central Illinois."

Experience as a prosecutor isn't a requirement for a job he sees as primarily one of "overseeing and running and managing the office. I think I'm very well prepared and would be very good at doing something like that."

Winkel went to the University of Illinois at Urbana with Weller. They both came to Washington as congressional interns. Winkel received his law degree at DePaul University College of Law in 1982 and practiced law in Chicago for one year. In 1984, he moved to Champaign, where he eventually became a partner at Harrington, Porter and Winkel. He concentrated in civil litigation.

From 1992 to 1994, he served on the Champaign County Board before being elected to the state legislature, where he served on both the House and Senate judiciary committees. In 1995, he joined the law firm of Meyer Capel.