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The Public Servant
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers

April 2000, vol. 1, no. 1

Someone you should know: profiles in government

The Honorable David A. Erickson's official job title is the First Assistant State's Attorney of Cook County. The job of first assistant is enormous, as he is responsible for the policy, management, training, and day-to-day operations of the entire Cook County State's Attorney's office. Despite the fact that there are over 900 attorneys in the office, he is able to remember them by first name when greeting one of the assistants in the hallway.

Like scores of hopefuls before him, Dave began clerking for the State's Attorneys Office as a young law student at John Marshall Law School. He could not know that some twenty years later he would return as the second in command to the leader of the second largest prosecutors' office in the nation. After graduating law school in 1976, Dave joined the State's Attorneys Office under State's Attorney Bernard Carey. Dave's first assignment was in first municipal working under Joseph Urso, now a presiding judge of the third judicial district. Dave quickly worked his way through the office, and within eleven months he was transferred to the coveted felony trial division at 26th and California.

Dave remembers the office of those days as vastly different in size and structure from what it is today. The entire felony trial division was small enough to be housed on the second floor of the courtroom side of the complex. In 1979, there were 36 assistants in the entire office, countywide. Today, there are 987 attorneys countywide.

Dave was assigned the unique position of "floor boy" when he made it to 26th Street, a job about which, notwithstanding its title, he fondly reminisces. In those days, the "floor boy's" job was to try specially assigned cases from among the pick of all the courtrooms in the felony trial division. Typically, these were the higher profile cases in the system. Dave remembers that one of his most significant cases, the Verdun case, was personally assigned to him by then State's Attorney Richard M. Daley. Verdun, a retired police officer, was charged with murdering Deputy Superintendent of Police Patrick Riordan in a Chicago tavern. Deputy Superintendent Riordan had come to the aid of a patron whom Verdun had begun hassling. Verdun shot Deputy Riordan several times in the head and chest, killing him. As lead prosecutor, Dave gained a conviction and the maximum sentence, which at the time was sixty years in the Department of Corrections.

From his days as floor boy, Dave worked his way up to Wing Supervisor, responsible for six felony courtrooms until his departure from the state's attorneys office in 1982. He practiced in the private sector for five years, first at Hinshaw & Culbertson and then on his own, doing everything from medical malpractice to plaintiff side personal injury and criminal defense. In 1986, Dave was recruited back to the State's Attorney's Office by then First Assistant Michael Angarola. He rejoined the office as the supervisor of the Second Municipal District headquartered in Skokie and soon was promoted to Deputy of the Special Prosecutions Bureau.

Dave's second departure from the office came in 1988, when he was tapped for the bench. He would remain on the bench for the next twelve years. As an associate judge, he again quickly worked his way up to supervisory judge in the newly-formed night narcotics unit within four and one-half years. He was then transferred to 26th and California to the felony trial division, where he presided over cases ranging from class four drug cases to capital homicide trials. As a judge, Dave had a reputation for being tough yet fair; assistant state's attorneys considered his courtroom to be a plum assignment. He was well regarded by both sides of the justice system.

When Richard Devine was elected in 1996 as Cook County State's Attorney, he began to put his team together to lead the new administration and enlisted Dave Erickson's help. Dave couldn't refuse. Although he gave up a prestigious judgeship, Dave saw it as a unique opportunity to help make the office grow and develop.

Dave speaks with pride of the numerous and innovative programs that he and Dick Devine have implemented throughout their four-year administration: the Community Prosecution Unit, where prosecutors are stationed in specific communities to help target and address the daily problems of the community; a complex litigation unit in the civil division; a narcotics strike force; and a diversion drug program to target non-violent drug offenders and unclog the overwhelming numbers of drug cases flowing into the system on a daily basis. They also have enhanced the Domestic Violence division, implementing two new programs there: the targeted abuser call, which Attorney General Janet Reno hailed as one of the top programs of its kind in the nation, and the felony domestic violence call.

One of the new programs Dave is proudest of is the systemized training program for young state's attorneys. He recruited Professor Paula Holderman from John Marshall Law School to head up the training program. Together, they implemented diversity training and attorneys' "school." Dave is also excited about the fact that the office now recruits from twenty-five out-of-state law schools and has forged an intern program with Howard University in Washington D.C.

Dave works long days, in both his Daley Center Office and at 26th and California. Additionally, Dave has taught trial advocacy at Chicago-Kent College of Law since 1982 and has coached many winning teams to victory in the regional competition of the National Trial Advocacy Competition.

Dave is committed to the betterment of the profession:

Having been in all types of practice, government and judicial, every attorney owes something back to the profession and the public. At some point in your life as an attorney you should and must do some public service. We must restore public confidence in the system by giving back to the profession and to society. We must as a profession do for the good of others.

Dave provides a great example, for we too should all strive to reach these goals.