Newly elected Jackson County State’s Attorney Joe Cervantez begins his term

By Keaton Yates, Staff Reporter

Joseph Cervantez, Jackson County’s newly elected State’s Attorney, has started his term by addressing COVID-19 regulations, forming SIU classes and other tasks to reform Jackson County within his first 30 days in office.

Traditionally, the state’s attorney would be trained by the predecessor, but because of COVID-19, Cervantez’s transition was limited. 

“I just showed up on day one and it was my job,” Cervantez said. 

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Cervantez said he has spent most of his time reaching out to law enforcement, local social service agencies and looking over active cases. He plans on going to court for cases in January.

COVID-19

Cervantez said in a press release on Dec. 19 he opposes mandatory closure for indoor dining due to COVID-19.

Restaurants should be reviewed case by case but no matter what he would side with the Jackson County health department, Cervantez said. 

“I want to explain these decisions,” Cervantez said. “The real question isn’t whether we should have [indoor dining], yes or no, it becomes how many people can we have indoors safely.”

Mary Lou’s Grill, a restaurant on 118 S Illinois Ave in Carbondale, posted on Jan. 2 they received a fine of $750 a day from Carbondale due to indoor dining. They said they will be closing as of Jan. 10 until indoor dining is allowed.

Marilyn Martin, owner of Mary Lou’s Grill, said they had to make a decision to stay open in order to survive. They first received a warning letter and received the fine on New Year’s Eve, she said. They have not done indoor dining since.

Martin said they continued to keep the restaurant clean and kept things off the tables. Masks were also enforced when entering the restaurant, she said.

“We were doing everything as part of the mitigations to be open for dine-in,” she said.

Martin said they were struggling to pay the bills even with indoor dining because of the decreased capacity, but now they are having to close until further notice because they are not making enough with carry out only.

“We’ve been in business since 1962.,” Martin said. “The city’s really done nothing to help businesses.”

While it’s Mary Lou’s Grill choice to stay open, it’s also people’s choice to choose to dine in, she said.

“We know [COVID-19] is real, but just use common sense,” Martin said. “It’s a sad day for all of us.”

Cervantez said he will agree with the health department if they claim it’s unsafe and have the data to prove it, he will support fining or pulling the license of the restaurant.

State’s Attorney’s office and SIU

Beginning in January undergraduate and graduate students in criminal justice, law, sociology, psychology and data specialists will have the opportunity to have hands-on learning in the state’s attorney’s office. It will be announced officially in early 2021, Cervantez said.

Cervantez said he has drafts of classes students can take and receive credit for working in the office. 

“This is the best way to train somebody,” Cervantez said. “It helps the university with recruiting and it helps our office.”

Students will be able to help the office with policies, programming and collecting data. They will also be able to review cases, conduct legal research and documenting communications, Cervantez said.

“I hope in return they’re going to have something to put on their resume, that they were a part of this effort that is nationwide right now and that’s criminal justice reform,” Cervantez said.

Other projects

In February Cervantez will meet with judges and public defenders to discuss a future amnesty program for nonviolent offenses, mostly traffic.

An amnesty program would include working with those who have difficulty paying fines, making it to court dates or have received warrants because of their driving record. 

In March Cervantez will put together a citizen’s advisory board where he will meet with members of the community and mayors to discuss future policies and programs in the State’s Attorney office. This board will meet every two months. 

Staff reporter Keaton Yates can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @keatsians.

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