After about a month on the job, Lucas Liefer’s prediction that his experience as assistant state’s attorney would help him in his new role has proven true.
“The transition was made a bit easier by the fact that I was the assistant for a while and my relationship with the former state’s attorney,” Liefer said. “I hit the ground running because I was already going through the files as an assistant.”
A 2003 graduate of Red Bud High School and 2011 graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s law school, Liefer began serving as an assistant state’s attorney in Monroe County in March.
He worked part-time, handling misdemeanor cases and assisting with felony matters.
Just three months later, the Monroe County Republican Central Committee picked him to run for state’s attorney. He handily won that November election, getting 71.92 percent of the vote. He was sworn in Dec. 1
“I’m really enjoying it,” Liefer said of the voter-approved promotion. “I knew this was what I wanted to do when I started as assistant and threw my hat in the ring to run. I couldn’t be happier with the way things turned out so far.”
Liefer worked with his predecessor, Chris Hitzemann, to help make the transition as smooth as possible before the latter man began working as the county’s new judge.
Nonetheless, there have been aspects of the job Liefer has had to learn by himself – including his current focus on assembling a staff.
“They don’t really teach you the business practice of being a lawyer in law school,” Liefer noted. “I learned that very well in private practice.”
Liefer already has a new full-time legal secretary who followed him from Cooper & Liefer in Red Bud, and he is looking to hire another.
He is also in the process of hiring two more assistant state’s attorneys to work part-time, which would bring the county’s total to three.
Another challenge Liefer has faced is the inability to do much work in the courtroom, including anything involving juries.
“With the pandemic and the shutdowns, it’s hard to move cases,” he said. “It’s nobody’s fault. I’m not complaining. It’s just the reality of it.”
To keep the wheels of justice moving, Liefer has been doing pre-trial conferences via Zoom that includes the opposing attorneys, himself and the judge.
As a defense lawyer in private practice, he said he learned to stay on top of cases in much the same way these conferences allow, as the focus is on maintaining contact with the parties and staying up-to-date on the cases’ progress.
Having these pre-trial conferences also ensures the cases can move to the next stage as soon as possible once the pandemic becomes less severe.
“We’re not starting over when we do get to open up again and have jury trials,” Liefer explained. “We’ll have at least one contact, if not more than one contact, with the opposing counsel.”
Liefer has also begun work on fulfilling his campaign promise of bringing a drug court to Monroe County, something he is working in tandem with Hitzemann on.
The drug court is a problem-solving one aimed at helping users battle their addiction by giving them the tools to control it.
“It’s a special court that we set up to help give some of these folks some of the help they need to combat their addiction,” Liefer said.
The first step in that process on Liefer’s end is submitting an application for the court so it can be approved and certified.
Then, the county must obtain a grant to fund it, as the drug court will require an additional probation officer and other resources.
That could all take some time, but Liefer said he is committed to pursuing it.
“It’s jumping through hoops. It’s making sure the money is there,” he said of the process. “I’m ready, willing and able to set aside a morning or even a whole day for drug court.”
Liefer is likewise working to bring upgraded software to his office that will allow easier remote work, decrease the reliance on paper and allow the county’s police departments to submit information directly to the system.
“That’s what it’s about: providing efficient government and making sure taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely,” Liefer said.
By the start of 2022, Liefer said he may also have begun working with a new system for juries here that he is currently considering.
With all those improvements, Liefer said the state’s attorney’s budget may need to go up, but he pledged to continue working as hard as possible regardless of funding.
“I’d like to see my budget increase and get some more attorneys working just to make sure things are moving forward as efficiently as they can,” he said. “I’m not saying I can’t do without it because I certainly can and will make sure things are always moving.”
“As things continue to grow in the county, which they are, we are going to have to grow and change with it,” Liefer summarized.