ROCK ISLAND — Dora Villarreal was sworn in Monday afternoon as interim Rock Island County state's attorney.
The ceremony was standing-room only as judges, county officials, county board members and residents squeezed into a third-floor courtroom in the Justice Center Annex to witness Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride administer the oath of office to Villarreal.
Villarreal, 39, was unanimously approved as interim state's attorney by county board members during the June 18 regular meeting.
"A state's attorney has a heavy mantle to hold," Kilbride said. "It's no small task for any state's attorney. There are always counterweights on either side of the mantle, but the mantle must be balanced in justice, fairness and the rule of law."
Reading from the Illinois Supreme Court rules of professional conduct, Kilbride said: "The duty of a public prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict. A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice, not simply that of an advocate."
Villarreal takes the place of former State's Attorney John McGehee, who was sworn in May 1 as a Rock Island County judge, replacing Judge Lori Lefstein, who retired. McGehee was elected in 2012.
Villarreal will serve until the November 2020 general election, when she will have to be elected to the position.
Villarreal said she asked Kilbride to administer the oath of office because he'd always taken time to listen to her ideas and answer her questions.
"I'm honored more than I could ever express to have been selected to represent the office of the state's attorney and our county," Villarreal said. "For me, this opportunity to be a public servant is the highest honor. I promise to uphold the highest levels of effective public service and commitment to justice in this county.
"The Rock Island County state's attorney's office works hard — I've worked with them," Villarreal said. "They have a tremendous responsibility to our community, and I am proud to become a member of their team. I look forward to working with law enforcement, our community leaders, our elected officials and our judges to find ways to improve and modernize our services."
McGehee said Villarreal would supervise 13 assistant state's attorneys working in the civil, criminal and juvenile divisions and 12 support staff.
"I hope she does very well and is extremely successful as our next state's attorney," McGehee said.
Villarreal earned her bachelor's degree from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and the Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, Minn.
She has been in private practice for 10 years, most recently with the Rock Island firm of Winstein, Kavensky & Cunningham, LLC. She is president of the Rock Island County Bar Association.
"I am very committed to working with the community," Villarreal said. "I want to focus on having an open-door policy and hearing new ideas and becoming a team with my office.
"I would really like to focus on some of the gun violence we're having and find new resources for addiction issues, mental health issues and juvenile programs we could use in the community to address some of the problems we're having. I'm really excited to get to work."
Villarreal thanked her friends and family for their support. Villarreal's husband, Nate Nieman, and daughter, Sophia, 11, sat at a front table next to county board chairman Richard Brunk and board member Kenneth "Moose" Maranda.
"Thank you to all of you who have supported me recently," Villarreal said. "I will not let you down for taking a chance on me. My door will be open, my cell phone is on. Let's get to work."