Navarro named La Salle County state’s attorney

Former top prosecutor (1988-96) returns to his old post

Joe Navarro, who served as La Salle County state’s attorney from 1988 to 1996, got his old job back.

The La Salle County Board voted unanimously Tuesday to appoint Navarro, 70, of Ottawa, to the prosecutor’s office. He replaces Todd Martin, who resigned to become a La Salle County circuit judge. (Martin will be sworn in later Tuesday.)

Though neither the nomination nor the vote came as surprises — the experienced Navarro was widely rumored to be frontrunner — Navarro sounded emotional when he rose to address the board.

Navarro praised now-predecessor Martin and said he would fulfill Martin’s expectations for how to go about the job, which was to say “fairly, honestly and to the best of my ability.”

“I am humbled and I want to thank each and every one of you,” Navarro told the board. “I look around the room and I know many — I don’t know some — I will do my best to get along with each and every one of you and my door is open and will be open for any questions and at any time.”

Navarro, however, is no neophyte to La Salle County government. He served two terms as state’s attorney and returned to the prosecutor’s office two years when Martin installed him as chief deputy in charge of the felony drugs division.

Navarro has almost 39 years at the bar and had accrued just five years’ experience when he ran and beat Republican Gary Peterlin in the 1988 election. Despite Navarro’s relative youth and inexperience, Democrats were looking for a fresh face and liked Navarro’s military record (he served in the Vietnam War) and union ties as a former pipe fitter who went on to complete his education on the GI Bill.

Navarro had an eventful first stint as state’s attorney. He got convictions in his eight murder cases but also drew political opposition after an abortive bid for judge and balking at then-sheriff Tony Condie using public funds to settle his, Condie’s, sexual harassment case. Navarro narrowly lost to Republican Mike James in his 1996 bid for a third term.

Martin bade farewell to the board said he “had absolutely no clue” he’d be presented as a judicial candidate and have to resign, but “it’s not a job I could turn down.”

“I’ve truly enjoyed working for the County Board and working with the County Board members,” Martin said. “Even when we disagreed, we were able to, in the past, go out and have a drink at the end of the night, and I truly enjoyed that.”