Pratt sees opportunity for ‘new challenge’ as he files to run for state’s attorney in Hancock County

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Public Defender Christopher Pratt, left, talks with Colton Parsons during his sentencing hearing in Adams County Circuit Court in October 2023. | MRN file photo by David Adam

QUINCY — Christopher Pratt, an attorney in the Adams County Public Defender’s Office since 2016, filed last week to run for state’s attorney in Hancock County.

Pratt, who was promoted to deputy chief public defender in 2020, filed as a Republican. He will face incumbent Bobi James in a primary on March 19. No Democratic candidates filed before Monday’s deadline.

James was appointed by the Hancock County Board in November 2022 to fill the remainder of the term of Rachel Mast, who took a position as the state’s attorney in Henderson County.

Pratt, 46, has lived in Quincy his whole life except for when he attended law school at the University of Illinois. However, with two adult daughters now out of the house, Pratt and his wife, Crystal, are ready to make the move north.

“It’s not actually required for state attorneys to live in the county to run, and you don’t have to live in the county to serve as state’s attorney,” Pratt said. “But if I were to be elected, I would absolutely move. My wife has family in Iowa, I have some family up in Iowa too. Certainly, we’d be happy to be closer and have an opportunity to reconnect there.

“This is an opportunity for a new challenge, a new opportunity, something different. I was in private practice for seven years, then had the opportunity to switch over to the criminal side in the courtroom, which I love. This is an opportunity to take advantage of what I have learned over the last seven years from people in my office, the other talented attorneys there and my boss and see if I can implement things and implement efficiencies that will make it a well-run system.”

The Adams County Public Defender’s Office has seven attorneys and two other employees when fully staffed. However, two public defenders recently left the office for health reasons, and another is out through the Family and Medical Leave Act. The office has not accepted new felony cases since Oct. 10 because of the shortage of attorneys and excessive caseloads of current staff members, although the office is about to begin receiving them again.

“It’s been rough,” Pratt admitted. “Everybody can look at the news and see what’s going on with our office and the way the courthouse is going. But (running for office in Hancock County) is less about trying to get out of the public defender’s office. I love my job. I love the people I work with. The staff we’ve had over the last decade or so in the public defender’s office has been top-notch. A lot of our clients have had a great opportunity to be represented by quality attorneys.

“It’s frustrating to lose multiple talented people. I know other people in the courthouse have left as well for the same related issues. I don’t know if it’s something that is going to get addressed or fixed. Does that play a part? Yeah. But it isn’t about getting out of this office because I don’t like to work. I love the work. I love what I do. I think I excel at what I do. But the pace at times can be frustrating.”

Pratt says his caseload in Adams County can make it difficult to prepare for jury trials.

“When somebody’s liberty and life is at stake, I want to provide the best representation I can for my clients,” he said. “When I’m in court for a docket almost every day, morning and afternoon, the actual work I need to do to prepare for something substantive like a jury trial is very difficult to come by. When you get that frustration, do you look for other opportunities? Yeah, I think so. When you see an opportunity for a new challenge like this, (the workload) influences it.”

The Hancock County State’s Attorney’s Office has two full-time attorneys and two other full-time employees.

“Maybe this is an opportunity to slow down a little bit, even while running an office,” Pratt said.  “You’re talking about a county that has 18,000 people in the entire county versus a county with a city that has 40,000 people.”

Pratt called his first campaign a “daunting prospect.”

“The party affiliation and the political side of it, there may be situations where it’s going to matter,” he said. “But for the most part, it’s about if I have the qualifications. Do I have the experience to do this job? Am I going to follow the law as it’s written, as it’s presented and enforce the law? That’s my plan.”

Pratt says James, who is from LaHarpe, has a “home-court advantage.” He believes his seven years of criminal law practice have prepared him for this opportunity.

“You don’t want to push those cases through and give them short shrift just because you’re overwhelmed with all these other cases that you can’t seem to get resolved,” he said. “If you ask anybody at the courthouse, that’s something I’m very good at. I resolve a lot of cases. I resolve a lot of cases equitably and fairly. I’ve had clients who have gone to prison for several years at the end of their cases, but they shake my hand and thank me on the way out of the courthouse.

“I work hard for my clients, and I answer their questions. That’s something I would bring to the table as the state’s attorney of Hancock County.”

Pratt worked for Schmiedeskamp, Robertson, Neu and Mitchell for seven years before joining the Adams County Public Defender’s Office. He graduated from University of Illinois College of Law in 2007.

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