Robert Milan has made his two decades of experience in the state’s attorney’s office the centerpiece of his campaign to be the county’s top prosecutor–along with what he calls the “empty promises” of the “career politicians” running against him. Milan likes to say that none of his opponents (aldermen Howard Brookins Jr. and Tom Allen, county commissioner Larry Suffredin, defense attorney Tommy Brewer, and prosecutor Anita Alvarez, Devine’s second lieutenant) have spent their careers putting criminals behind bars like he has.
He doesn’t spend much time talking about the rights of the accused. That makes some sense, since, as he likes to remind anyone who will listen, the top job of the state’s attorney is to help keep the public safe.
And when pressed, Milan insists that he has a “great deal of respect for the men and women in the public defender’s office.”
But a few months ago he made comments that seemed to dismiss not only the work of the PD’s office but the notion that people charged with crimes have to be proven guilty before they’re convicted.
Milan, the top lieutenant to current state’s attorney Dick Devine, was fighting for pay hikes for his staff when he told reporters, “This world is upside down when public defenders who represent criminals make more than the men and women in this office.”
Eventually prosecutors got the pay raise they were looking for. But when I asked Milan to clarify his comments this week, he, ironically, got defensive. “They call it the ‘criminal courts building,'” he said. “They call the lawyers ‘criminal defense attorneys.’ I guess we should change those titles too. I don’t know what else to say. The fact of the matter is that in the overwhelming number of cases I’ve tried, the people were convicted and guilty of those crimes.”
He added: “In order to be more politically correct, should I have said, ‘[Public defenders] represent people charged with crimes’? Probably should have.”
But is it “political correctness” to expect the county’s top prosecutor to acknowledge that people are innocent until proven guilty? Isn’t that kind of a fundamental principle of the legal system?
“You tell me,” Milan said.