DECATUR — The sound of a cart of court files being pushed down the hall announced the arrival of Cassie Mullikin before she even made it to Macon County Circuit Courtroom 1.
Walking through the door in a black pantsuit and high heels, Mullikin pushed the cart toward a table on the left side of the room in front of Associate Judge Thomas E. Griffith’s bench, greeting security guards and police officers as she settled in and began organizing her files.
For those sitting in the courtroom, Nov. 7 was just an ordinary day of preliminary hearings, proceedings held after a criminal complaint has been filed by a prosecutor to determine whether there is enough evidence to require a trial. For Mullikin, however, as she handed officers and detectives testifying in the hearings copies of police reports and lists of questions she’d be asking them, Nov. 7 was significant: It was the first day she was able to conduct preliminary hearings on her own, without the supervision of another attorney.
“It was exciting,” recalled Mullikin, 26. “I wasn’t nervous because I had helped run prelims so many times with (Macon County State’s Attorney) Jack (Ahola), and I had questioned witnesses before during some traffic court bench trials, but it was nice to be able to push the files and do everything on my own.”
The Herscher native, who has been interning in the Macon County State’s Attorney’s Office since the beginning of September, was officially sworn in Nov. 1 as a new attorney in Springfield and an assistant state’s attorney in Macon County, making her childhood dream of becoming a lawyer a reality.
“It was really nice,” said Mullikin. “It was exciting that it was that final step (of becoming an attorney), and it was nice to have my parents (Mike and Ginny Mullikin) there to see that.”
Mullikin said she made the decision to pursue law while in high school.
“As kids grow up, they’re always thinking about what they want to be when they get older, and for me, being an attorney was just something that stuck,” she said.
Graduating from Herscher High School in 2005, Mullikin attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2009 and her law degree in May 2012.
Mullikin said it was during her second year of law school that she determined the area of law in which she wanted to specialize.
“I’ve always been interested in crime in general,” she said, noting that she’s often drawn to books, television shows and movies that focus on crime and criminal investigation, “so criminal law was really what I was most interested in during my last two years of law school.”
Leaning toward becoming a prosecutor, Mullikin said an opening in the Macon County State’s Attorney’s Office last spring piqued her interest in prosecution even more.
“I heard last February that the office had an opening,” she said, “and even though I was still in my last year of law school, I applied, and (First Assistant State’s Attorney) Jay (Scott) ended up interviewing me because he thought the office may have another opening in the fall.”
A couple of weeks after interviewing with Scott, Mullikin said she stumbled across another potential opportunity to work in Macon County.
“I found out that a fellowship program (through the University of Illinois College of Law and the Illinois Office of the State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor) existed to help match up law students with county offices,” she said.
After applying and being accepted to the program, Mullikin interviewed with Scott again in April for an internship in the state’s attorney’s office.
“It was a great interview,” Mullikin said. “I really liked Jay, and (Assistant State’s Attorney) Nichole Kroncke sat in on the interview, and I really liked her and the office, too.”
Four months after Mullikin graduated from law school, she began working at the Macon County State’s Attorney’s Office as a “711 intern,” which, under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 711, is a law school student approved by the American Bar Association who can practice law under the supervision of an attorney.
Assigned to the office’s domestic violence unit, Mullikin started out doing a variety of tasks, including helping with preliminary hearings, looking up case law for other assistant state’s attorneys and other assignments.
“Just being in a courtroom excites me,” Mullikin said earlier this month. “I’ve gotten to do a few pleas and a sentencing, and it’s really still the little things that excite me.”
Ahola said Mullikin’s internship has been beneficial for her and the office as a whole.
“We started out with prelims with Cassie instead of traffic court because of her association with the domestic violence unit,” he said, “and I think it’s been good training for her because it’s very detail-oriented. I think she’s very self-assured in court, and with all of the cases in the domestic violence unit, we definitely appreciate the help.”
Ahola said he admires how hard Mullikin works.
“She is always cheerful and willing to take on additional work,” he said. “She’s a very good attorney. It takes a lot of training to be a good prosecutor, and it’s something you can’t learn from a book; you just have to do it, and she’s definitely ready to do preliminary hearings on her own.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Elizabeth Dobson, Mullikin’s supervisor, was impressed by how comfortable Mullikin has been in the courtroom.
“She’s not afraid of court,” said Dobson, whose area of focus is sex crimes. “She’s very comfortable, which is huge for how young she is and how new her career is.”
Mary Koll, who also works with Mullikin and whose focus is domestic felonies, agreed.
“She is really good with research and legal databases,” Koll said. “She’s helped me with some low-level felony cases, probation violations and bench trials, and that’s a great place for her to start.”
In addition to being confident in the courtroom, Dobson said Mullikin is self-directed and motivated.
“Cassie comes in every day and says, ‘I need work,’ and we provide it for her,” she said. “With sex crimes and domestic violence increasing, we’re busy 100 percent of our day, so now that she’s licensed and can go to court by herself, it will really help us be able to do more office work.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Pam Domash said she’s noticed a lot of growth in Mullikin.
“I think she seems more comfortable here now, and she’s not afraid to ask questions,” said Domash, who went through the same fellowship program as Mullikin. “The fellowship really gives her the chance to learn and to gain experience. She always gets things done, and when I have a big load of work, she helps me a lot.”
Mullikin said her internship experience has been invaluable and has reinforced her desire to become a prosecutor.
“I love the people I work with here,” she said. “They have so much knowledge to impart, and I’ve learned a lot from them. This has been a great office to start out in.”
With her internship ending in March, Mullikin said she is hoping to continue learning and find a full-time job as a prosecutor.
“There’s not an opening here right now, but I’m hopeful that something may open up,” Mullikin said. “Being in Decatur is kind of like being home. It’s been a good fit, and as a prosecutor, I just want to be able to help victims and to make sure the community is safer.”
“I hope she stays and that there will be an opening for her at the end of her internship,” Dobson said. “She’s a tremendous asset to Decatur.”