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The Comeback Kids: Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley

Published: Mar. 23, 2021 at 5:30 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Newly elected Winnebago County State’s Attorney J. Hanley considers himself a Comeback Kid, as his current gig in Rockford isn’t his first go-around in the city.

Hanley says, “I am a bit of a comeback kid. I boomeranged back to Rockford a couple of times. I went away to college on the east coast in Rhode Island, worked in New York City for a year, went to law school in Chicago and then I came back and worked for this office. Paul Logli hired me as the assistant state’s attorney, That was kind of the first boomerang, I lived in my childhood bedroom.”

That experience with Logli is what Hanley says made him want to continue his journey as a prosecutor. First to Tuscon, Arizona and that’s where me met his wife and started a family of his own. But he says he couldn’t ignore Rockford’s call to come home. “Rockford has kind of a weird way of pulling you back. Every time I would leave, you kind of feel this pull and I really do think it’s because of what the community means to me,” Hanley says.

Now living a block away from where he grew up on Rockford’s near west side, he’s building a new circle of life. Hanley says, “I feel this sense of community. My kids are going to school with the sons and daughters of people that I went to school catholic school with growing up here. That sense of community you can’t replicate and get anywhere else.”

He knows that makes the community tick, using his Rockford origins and his work experience, he won his political race, a nail biter that came down to just a few votes. Hanley recalls that time back in November 2020 saying, “At the time it was going on, I was trying to distract myself because it was an extremely stressful time. I was down between 70 and 80 votes the night of. Then 2 or 3 days later, when they counted some additional mail-in votes, we were tied. We were tied for almost two weeks until the final tally came in. I ended up prevailing by 15 votes.”

Using his desire to serve others, he wanted to change the culture and restore trust in the State’s Attorney’s office. “There is lots to be done. But I’ve got to build this layer of trust. What we talk about in the office every single day is we call it ‘filling the bucket.’ You fill your own little bucket , I have one on my desk here as a reminder and everyone has one on their desk as a reminder of what to do each and every day,” Hanley says.

Bringing that personal touch to the job is what gives Hanley a perfect combination of doing his dream job right here at time. Hanley says, " I love it because I do seek justice every day. I’m called upon to do the right thing. Is it challenging? Absolutely and there are days when it kind of feels like the weight of the county is on your shoulders. But it’s worth it.”

Outside of the office, J and his wife are foster parents and he’s heavily involved in organizations like the YMCA, United Way and KFACT.

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