McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally calls his surprise decision to step down ‘agonizing’

Kenneally was running unopposed on the November ballot for what would have been his third term

McHenry County State's Attorney Patrick Kenneally delivers his opening statement during the trial for the former Illinois Department of Children and Family Services employees Carlos Acosta and Andrew Polovin, before Lake County Judge George Strickland on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, at the McHenry County courthouse. Acosta, 57, of Woodstock, and Polovin, 51, of Island Lake, each are charged with two counts of endangering the life of a child and health of a minor, Class 3 felonies, and one count of reckless conduct, a Class 4 felony, related to their handling of the AJ Freund case.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said Tuesday that, “after nonstop agonizing,” he has chosen not seek reelection in November.

It would have been his third term as State’s Attorney and he was running unopposed, having just won his Republican primary last month.

“It is with sadness that I write to inform McHenry County residents that I have decided to remove myself from the 2024 race for McHenry County State’s Attorney,” he said in a news release. “I will leave the office at the end of my term, November 30, 2024.”

He also said that there is someone who is going to take his place, although he declined to identify whom. Who would replace him on the November ballot will also be a decision involving the county’s Republican Party.

“I love the job and will carry with me an abiding sense of gratitude for having had the opportunity to represent the wonderful people of McHenry County,” he continued. “After protracted conversations with family and friends, considerable prayer, non-stop agonizing, and having taken stock of the life’s immediate challenges, which include raising four young children and caring for two ailing parents, I have concluded that I cannot commit to undertaking four more years with the same vigor that I have endeavored to devote over the last eight and that the formidable job of state’s attorney demands.”

He said his office was “overflowing with talented lawyers who also happen to be wonderful people” and that the office is “well-equipped to effectively serve residents and crime victims over the period of transition to come.

“The only thing that has made the lead-heavy burden of this decision bearable is that there is someone of unassailable character and talent who has decided to seek the approval of the Republican Party in filling my vacancy as candidate,” he said. “A person who, if fortunate enough to be nominated and elected, will do truly great things.”

Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Kenneally declined further comment.

Kenneally was hired as a prosecutor in 2007 by former state’s attorney Lou Bianchi. Kenneally worked his way from traffic court to special prosecutions. He left the office for a brief time, then returned, and in 2016 he was named McHenry County first assistant state’s attorney. He has tried more than 90 cases at all levels of the justice system, according to his website.

During his tenure, Kenneally has been a vocal opponent of the SAFE-T Act doing away with cash bond and of the legalization of marijuana.

He was a proponent for stronger penalties against those charged with the care of children, as was seen in the rare move to prosecute two Department of Children and Family Services employees in the death of 5-year-old Andrew “AJ” Freund Jr.

Assistant Public Defender Richard Behof said he “had a lot of big cases that went to trial against Pat, and he was always prepared and passionate, and I think that is how he tried to run his office.”

One such trial was that of Michael Romano, convicted in 2015 of fatally shooting his father and stepmother. Behof and former Assistant Public Defender Angelo Mourelatos represented Romano, and Kenneally was one of three on the prosecution.

“Pat was the main lead,” Behof recalled. “He had the case really prepared. I remember he was forthcoming with [Mourelatos] and I on who he planned to call and when.”

Behof admitted there were some heated moments during trial, but those did not carry over outside the courtroom.

“You could go at it with him in the courtroom, then afterward go beat each other up on the basketball court,” Behof said.

Assistant State’s Attorney Ashur Youash has worked with Kenneally for the past six years, for which he said he is “immensely grateful.”

“Pat’s leadership of the [State’s Attorney’s Office] promoted and fostered the professional growth of all of us privileged to work here during his tenure,” Youash said. “His passion for justice is contagious and has certainly driven me, and, I believe, all of us in this office, to work each day to become a ‘better’ McHenry County State’s Attorney.”

Defense attorney Brian Stevens said he and Kenneally had “litigated cases against each other” for many years when he was in the courtroom prosecuting. Stevens said the two were just discussing the “exhausting pace of raising kids ... at the same time knowing that such involvement is inherently its own reward.”

Stevens added: “I will miss the fine leadership. I have the good fortune to know him as an attorney, a colleague and a friend. I respect Pat’s decision not to run, especially since I know him as a very dedicated family man.”

McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio said Kenneally “has been an outstanding champion of the rights of the people in McHenry County.

“I can barely imagine somebody navigating the waters of the last eight years as well as he has. ... “He’s been a good partner, and he will be sorely missed by this office for sure,” Tirio said.

Moving forward, Tirio said the Republican Party would have to meet and decide who the replacement candidate will be. “Then there is paperwork that they would provide to us, and assuming that all happens as it should, then that person would be the candidate,” he said.

It is similar to 2020, when Mark Justen died shortly after winning the primary for coroner. The party chose Dr. Micheal Rein to take his place. Tirio also said a Democratic Party candidate could still choose to run in November.