VALPARAISO | Portage attorney Stacey Whitten jumped in Friday as a Democratic candidate for Porter County prosecutor and the first female to seek the post, challenging Republican incumbent Brian Gensel's shot at a third term.
Stacey Whitten, wife of Porter County Council President Dan Whitten, D-at-large, was named to the ballot by Porter County Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Chidester, who is charged with filling vacancies left after the spring primary elections.
She said the move was several months in the making.
"I have spent time talking to many individuals and families in Porter County as well as members of the criminal justice system and I believe that a change is necessary in the leadership of the prosecutor’s office," she said in a prepared statement. "I firmly believe that I can provide the change and leadership that this county deserves."
Whitten, who has been practicing law since 2005 and is a legal partner with her husband focusing on bankruptcy cases, said she has handled many criminal cases as a former public defender for the city of Hobart.
She is currently serving as an assistant city attorney in Hobart and and serves as a city prosecutor, a position which she has held for the last seven years, according to a press release.
Whitten previously worked with the Lake County IV-D Child Support Division and worked with the Lake County prosecutor's drug unit while in law school.
Chidester said in a prepared statement, "I not only believe that Stacey will be a great candidate, but she will bring a new and fresh perspective to the Porter County prosecutor’s office."
Gensel downplayed Whitten's experience, saying the prosecutor is the chief law enforcement officer in the county.
"It is certainly not a job for a bankruptcy attorney with no real prosecution experience," he said in a prepared statement. "In the nine years she has been an attorney, Ms. Whitten has never appeared on any case in Porter County."
To be an effective prosecuting attorney, Gensel said an individual needs a strong working relationship with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies as well as the judiciary and criminal defense bar.
"Over the last 26 years, I have developed and relied upon these relationships to effectively prosecute criminals and keep Porter County residents safer," he said.
Gensel, who has served 26 years with the office and eight years as prosecutor, was unopposed in the primary.