A side-by-side look at plans by Cook County State’s Attorney Democratic candidates Kim Foxx, Bill Conway, Donna More and Bob Fioretti
From Jussie Smollett to bail reform, the candidates share their views and ideas.
On March 17, Democratic primary voters in Illinois can choose between Kim Foxx, Bill Conway, Donna More and Bob Fioretti for Cook County State’s Attorney. The winner will be the Democratic Party’s nominee for the general election Nov. 3.
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues. Here are their responses:
On Jan. 29, 2019, the actor Jussie Smollett reported to the Chicago Police that he had been attacked by two white men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck. None of this proved to be true. What did the Cook County state’s attorney’s office do right or wrong in this case? What would you have done differently?
Kim Foxx: When I took office in 2016, it was the bloodiest year in Cook County in decades. In assembling and reviewing the data of criminal prosecutions, it was clear that the State’s Attorney’s Office was spending the overwhelming majority of our prosecutorial resources on non-violent offenses. Under my leadership, we have prioritized the prosecution of violent offenses and expanded the use of alternatives to prosecution and diversion in cases that are lower level and nonviolent in nature by 25%. The Smollett case was evaluated in the same manner as other cases involving similar events and defendants with similar criminal histories. Due to the public interest, in this case, our office should have taken more care to inform the public about how the case was reviewed and ultimately handled. I fell short of my own standard for transparency and accountability in the way this matter was communicated, and continue to learn so that we can always improve.
Bill Conway: With Jussie Smollett, the State’s Attorney showed that the politically connected get better deals than other people. I have a client right now who, like Smollett, filed a false police report. But she doesn’t have powerful friends and she is not a Hollywood celebrity. As a result, my client has to go to court every month, report to a probation officer every month, maintain a job, pay restitution and get permission from a judge to leave Cook County, unlike Smollett. This is a case of unequal justice, and one that the State’s Attorney has not been honest with us about. Foxx’s story on how she handled the case changed half a dozen times and now she is being investigated for it.
As State’s Attorney, I will ensure that everyone is treated the same regardless of who they know and who they are connected to — there should not be a two-tiered system of justice. The State’s Attorney is supposed to be a beacon of public trust so people do not lose faith in the criminal justice system and clearly that trust was violated.
Donna More: Foxx made several egregious errors in this case. First and foremost, she had conversations with interested, non-parties to the case resulting in special treatment for the defendant. Foxx turned a blind eye on evidence painstakingly developed by CPD which produced evidence of probable cause for 16 felonies. Yet Foxx heeded appeals from celebrity politicians and, in an unprecedented abuse of discretion, proceeded to drop all 16 charges brought against the defendant. She tried to gloss over the effect of outside influence by recusing herself — and herself alone — from the case. The recusal was improper, violating century old legal precedent and inviting the irate sanction of her own head of appeals and prosecutor groups all cross the U.S. Foxx made no effort to hold the defendant accountable. An hour of envelope-stuffing at PUSH does not constitute community service. Giving up $10,000 in bail does not come close to covering the City’s investigatory and legal costs. Making decisions that allowed the defendant to fly home to Hollywood without an admission of wrongdoing amounts to malpractice on the part of the State’s Attorney. Foxx touts her transparency, yet to date she has not explained to the public why she dropped charges in this case. We can only hope that the special prosecutor provides the explanations the public deserves.
My approach would have been the one I learned as a felony state and federal prosecutor. I would have consulted with law enforcement and explained that deferred prosecution (DPP) was the appropriate course to deal with a first-time, non-violent felony offender. DPP calls for an admission of guilt, payment of fees and costs, and bona-fide community service. For the latter, I would have insisted that the defendant visit area schools and youth groups to help students understand how a fabricated hate crime allegation damages communities and future victims of such crimes. Provided the defendant complies with his/her obligation under the DPP, charges are dismissed in a year and can be expunged.
Finally, I would tell the public why and how the case decisions are made.
Bob Fioretti: First, Kim Foxx allowed the case to be influenced by a phone call from a Very Important Person. Second, she treated Smollett differently than others because of his celebrity. Third, she brazenly lied to the people of Cook County. She claimed to recuse herself. She didn’t. All thee acts are unacceptable and disqualifying.
When is it appropriate to recruit the FBI and United States attorney’s office for assistance in cases that usually fall under state jurisdiction?
Kim Foxx: State and local enforcement should always work with federal agencies to ensure public safety by building the strongest possible cases and holding our most violent offenders accountable in the best forum. Since taking office, strengthening our relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and all federal law enforcement agencies has been a top priority, demonstrated in part by my creation of the Gun Crimes Strategies Unit (GCSU). This ongoing and unprecedented partnership with the USAO, FBI, DEA, and ATF to reduce violence and build safer communities has yielded significant results, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab. In fact, where we have a prosecutor embedded on the ground in the Chicago Police Department’s 11th district (Harrison), there has been a 433% increase in Armed Habitual Criminal arrests, a Class X felony. Each of our GCSU prosecutors is cross-designated as a Special Assistant United States Attorney, meaning they can try a case in either federal or state court depending on which venue offers the most appropriate charge and sentence. (You can learn more about our innovative GCSU program and the results here: https://www.cookcountystatesattorney.org/news/innovative-state-s-attorney-s-office-program-results-dramatic-increase-repeat-gun-charges)
The advantage of involving federal authorities in certain cases is that these agencies have higher levels of time and resources to spend on individual cases as compared with the relatively limited resources of State’s Attorney’s Office, which handles more than 200,000 misdemeanors and tens of thousands of felonies each year. The U.S. Attorney’s Office handles a fraction of those numbers. Additionally, federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI are specially trained to conduct proactive investigations into complex matters such as fraud, corruption, and cybercrime. When a case involves conduct or offenses that are complex and require additional resources or target prolifically violent individuals, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office should consider offering assistance to local authorities. If a case involves egregious behavior that warrants a severe sentence (such as the manufacture, delivery or possession of child pornography), the federal system may offer a more appropriate venue based on federal mandatory minimum sentences.
Ultimately, federal authorities should work together with the state’s attorney to ensure that individuals who pose a threat to public safety and trust are held accountable, which often means federal assistance in investigations or federal adoption of cases.
Bill Conway: The Federal Government has resources that the State’s Attorney’s Office does not have and also has the ability to prosecute crime that occurs outside of Illinois. In some public corruption cases, the additional resources, both monetarily and legally that the Federal government has can be an asset to a case — such as increased surveillance ability. Additionally, when cases are followed and it’s clear that the crime is being committed across several jurisdictions, Federal law enforcement needs to be brought in, a particular problem when illegal guns are shipped into Cook County from states with more permissible gun sale laws.
Donna More: The federal government has far more resources than the County but the long history of collaboration between the two prosecuting agencies on public corruption and drug and gun trafficking seems to be lacking under Foxx. The State’s Attorney’s Office isn’t partnering with the US Attorney to aggressively pursue these serious underlying criminal activities. Federal authorities also have lab analysis capacity that we should be using more effectively to reduce the unacceptable backlog of untested rape kits. Hundreds of sexual assault cases are unresolved and the feds could help us identify violent offenders against women.
Bob Fioretti: Violent gang crimes involving guns and narcotics is one area that the federal government sometimes has more resources to prosecute than the State’s Attorney office. Wide-ranging corruption cases as we are apparently watching unfold now also require more resources than the State’s Attorney’s budget.
Federal investigators are conducting a wide-ranging probe of Chicago area officeholders, including aldermen and state legislators. Why do you think these cases were not investigated and prosecuted by the state’s attorney?
Kim Foxx: As noted above the US attorney’s office has the time and resources to conduct long-term investigations particularly of political figures. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and its resources are primarily used to combat violent crime. The states attorney’s office handles the volume of 40,000 felony cases and over 200,000 misdemeanor cases on an annual basis while our office of Public Integrity unit of does investigate and handle allegations of misconduct by elected officials it is not of the same breadth in scope of that is offered by the US attorney’s office and it’s investigated bodies. Where appropriate this office has investigated elected officials and prosecuted them when appropriate. Additionally, our office provides resources and support involved in investigations to the US attorney’s office and the FBI handles regarding elected officials as well. There are instances in which our office may begin an investigation and subsequently tender that investigation to the US attorney’s office for prosecution.
Bill Conway: One can speculate all day about why our current State’s Attorney has lacked the will or determination to go after brazen corruption. What I know is that once I am elected, I can promise that I will not owe anything to anyone besides the voters of Cook County. As a result, you can expect a significant increase in public corruption prosecution at the State’s Attorney’s Office.
Donna More: The answer is Cook County-style quid pro quo. In return for campaign support from the County machine, Foxx doesn’t pursue local corruption cases that might involve other machine officeholders. Everyone knows that pay-to-play, ghost payrolling and campaign finance shenanigans are part of Cook County’s DNA. These nefarious activities have thrived under Foxx, yet she is nowhere to be found in the government corruption probes initiated by the federal government.
Bob Fioretti: As a product of the Cook County Democratic machine Kim Foxx is conflicted. She is a wholly owned subsidiary of Toni Preckwinkle and the rest of the Democratic machine. After being slated, endorsed, and raising massive campaign contributions, why would Kim Foxx do anything to destroy her gravy train? When is the last time a Cook County Democratic machine State’s Attorney went after a local machine politician? Not in our lifetime.
What should the office’s priorities be?
Kim Foxx: Upon taking office, my team and I set out our “Mission, Vision, and Values” and this guides our work every day. We pledged to do justice in pursuit of thriving, healthy, and safe communities. We committed to creating a safer, stronger Cook County and approaching every case with integrity, demanding accountability, and increasing our presence in the community. We said that our success would not be measured in convictions, that we believed in doing what’s right and fighting for the best, most fair outcomes, whatever form that takes, based upon the facts, evidence, and the law. And we owned and asserted our responsibility to address the historic inequities in our criminal justice system.
Over the past three years, I have focused on prosecuting violent crimes instead of low-level offenses, bringing greater accountability to police-involved shootings, leading on criminal justice reform to right the wrongs of the past, and holding the Cook County State’s Attorney Office to an unprecedented level of transparency.
In 2016, Cook County experience the most violent year in decades. There were 3,550 shootings and 761 murders. 34 of them were children. But the most prosecuted felony — the issue on which we spent the most time and resources — was (non-violent) retail theft; upon taking office, we quickly created the Gun Crimes Strategies Unit — which places prosecutors directly in the police districts experiencing the highest levels of violence where they work alongside law enforcement to target the drivers of violent crime. Violent crime has decreased every year since, and we’ve seen some of the most progress in GCSU districts. Let us be clear: this is progress, not a success, but working closely with our partners, we are moving in the right direction.
In addition, we have made tremendous strides in criminal justice reform, most notably our work to help pass the most equitable cannabis legalization law in the country and our efforts to expunge records and begin to reverse the impact on the failed war on drugs that disproportionately harmed communities of color.
We have also expanded our work in conviction integrity. Chicago was once called the “False Confession Capital of the United States.” Today, our proactive Conviction Integrity Unit is a national model. Since 2016, we have vacated more than 80 wrongful conviction cases.
We have also worked to reform the bail system, which has long penalized people of color simply for being poor. We have done this, along with other reforms, alongside a decrease in both violent crime and incarceration (the Cook County jail population is now at a historic low), demonstrating that public safety and reform need not be a choice, but in fact, we must do both.
Finally, the work of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office used to be opaque. There was no way to compare facts, only cite anecdotes. Noe, we are the most transparent prosecutor’s office in the country and the first to provide the citizens we serve online access to every felony case dating back to 2011. Our dashboard provides detailed information on more than 350,000 felony offenders, how we prosecute each case, and the outcomes, so the public can see for themselves our efforts to create safer and just communities.
Many of these strides were reported last October by the Marshall Project, the Chicago Reporter, and the Chicago Sun-Times. When re-elected I will continue the work that has made Chicago not only a safer place but a national leader in criminal justice reform as well.
Bill Conway: Priority one needs to be making Cook County safe. That starts with getting illegal guns off the streets and making sure that if you commit a crime with a gun, you stay in jail. At the same time, we need to stop locking up nonviolent offenders who don’t pose a threat to our community. We also need to restore faith in the office by ending preferential treatment for the politically connected.
Donna More: My vision has accountability at its core. People who commit crimes — regardless of color, creed, position — must be held accountable. If they aren’t, the criminal justice system’s very existence is in jeopardy. And so is the safety of the public.
Realizing the vision involves taking three urgent steps.
I will make law enforcement and elected officials trusted partners of the State’s Attorney Office. We must be a unified community to successfully fight the epidemic of violence and crime against our families, our neighbors, our homes, and our businesses. My approach will be to use smart charging and prosecutorial discretion as tools to build trust, fight crime, and dispense justice.
I will reverse “catch and release” and other non-charging policies to ensure we are dispensing justice on a case-by-case basis. We must end the practice of categorical dismissals of crimes. For example, Foxx refuses to charge retail theft under $1,000 even for repeat offenders, putting Chicago in top five of cities for organized retail crime.
I will make prosecutorial decisions based on the law without fear or favor. Politics, celebrity and money will not influence legal decisions nor will they bend the definition of “discretion” to the point of jeopardizing public trust and safety.
Longer range, we will engage with the community to bring true reform to the State’s Attorney’s Office. We will strike a balance in the system that delivers incarcerations when warranted and second chances when merited and just. We will make it safe for witnesses to come forward. We will develop partnerships with private sector stakeholders to help people get back to work rather than go back to prison. We will work with mental health professionals to provide triage for people who enter the system with mental health disorders and affordable pre-trial care.
In many instances, the day-to-day work of the chief prosecutor’s office is not evidence that the criminal justice system is flawed. Rather, it is symptomatic of decades of failed political and social programs that have hindered legitimate economic development and fostered drug markets and gang management. The SAO is the last stop in a vicious cycle. We need to join with other elected officials to advocate for new and innovative legislative solutions for the problems of mass incarceration, poverty, mental illness, and economic disenfranchisement.
Bob Fioretti: Keeping Cook County residents safe should be the top priority. Following the law is another. In a normal scenario, the legislature passes laws. Then the State’s Attorney’s office then carries out the laws. This State’s Attorney makes it up as she goes, ignores some laws and routinely breaks others.
How would you describe the relationship between the state’s attorney’s office, the Fraternal Order of Police and suburban police departments? What should the office do, if anything, to improve these relationships?
Kim Foxx: Anyone who takes the oath to become an officer of the police has willingly sign up to put themselves in harm’s way, to protect and to serve the public. Police departments are an integral part of the safety of our communities. Most civilians will never know the weight of making the types of split-second decisions that can result in taking a life or saving one’s own, but our communities also must trust those who are policing them. The reality is that even though all of us in law enforcement are entrusted to protect and serve, we must also acknowledge that many of our communities have been profiled, discriminated against, and at times been put in terror by some who have abused their power. In my first years in office, we have been working side by side with both the Chicago Police Department and our suburban police departments in trying to make our communities safer. We have placed prosecutors directly in those police districts experiencing the highest levels of violence where they work collaboratively with both local and federal law enforcement to target the drivers of violent crime. In addition to those select districts, we have strengthened our partnership more broadly, creating a Felony Review manual to assist police in presenting stronger cases for review to achieve better outcomes, conducting frequent training, and keeping open lines of communication. Our work is about collaboration so that we can be smarter and more effective in how we curb crime and violence, while also restoring trust in those communities who have been living in fear.
Bill Conway: When I think about how to build and maintain a positive relationship between our police officers and our prosecutors, I focus on one of the most important pillars of our legal system: the pursuit of justice. When I was in the State’s Attorney’s Office I worked with police officers who stayed up late, crying with victims and their families. I worked with police officers who drank coffee for days to solve crimes and catch people who were making their communities unsafe. They were pursuing justice and they worked closely with me because they knew I was a partner in that effort.
However, we also can’t hesitate to go after bad police officers. When I took my first police officer prosecution, I remember what more senior Assistant State’s Attorneys told me “if you go after cops you’ll never get more police officers to work with you again.” But when a case came before me involving a law enforcement official who put a dementia-plagued man’s assets in his own name, I knew I had to do what was right. That cop broke the law and I prosecuted him, just like I did with several other corrupt public officials who thought our justice system’s rules didn’t apply to them. After convicting that officer, countless police officers thanked me for going after someone who was giving every good police officer a bad name.
In my experience, what unites good law enforcement officials — both our police officers and our prosecutors — is fighting for justice, no matter the cost. As Cook County State’s Attorney that’s exactly what I will do, and I know countless police officers across Chicago and its suburbs who will unabashedly work with me that in that effort.
Donna More: Law enforcement does not trust State’s Attorney Foxx to do the right thing when it comes to charging, bonding, pre-trial incarceration, trials, and sentencing. Her so-called “reform” platform — which the community now refers to as “catch and release” — tends to exacerbate the distrust. Half of the murders that CPD solves are never charged. Gun offenders are routinely released from custody without regard to the magnitude or frequency of offenses. Carjackers are back on the streets in six hours. Hundreds of shoplifters are stealing from local merchants and waving at security cameras on the way out the door because Foxx won’t charge retail theft.
The way to restore the relationship is to  follow the law (rather than make it up) and  show by deed and promise that the partnership between police and prosecutors will be respected for the good of the community. It may require intense training of both groups to reseed an understanding of what is needed to fight crime and protect the interests of the public. I’ll see to it that such training is a top priority. I’ll use prosecutorial discretion — instead of announced non-charging by category, for retail theft, for example — as a foundation for resource allocation.
By the way, repairing the relationship does not mean that police get a pass when it comes to criminal behavior. They will be held accountable just like everyone else if they come in contact with the criminal justice system.
Bob Fioretti: As of now, there is open warfare between the state’s attorney’s office and police at every level. This must end. Police officers deserve the support of the office, not the back of her hand. I was recently endorsed by the FOP in this race. If elected, we will work closely together to keep the residents of Cook County safe.
Bail reform in Cook County has been praised for reducing the number of people held in jail while awaiting trial, but it has been criticized for making the public less safe. Do you support these changes? Why or why not? What steps should be taken next?
Kim Foxx: Our top priority is public safety, which is why defendants who pose a threat to that safety or present a risk of not returning for the trial are detained. Our pursuit of justice and the constitution also requires our recognition that individuals are presumed innocent before trial.
For me, public safety is best served when we are detaining those who actually pose a threat to our communities rather than jailing those who are simply poor and unable to post bond for a nonviolent offense. Not only do we cost taxpayers millions of dollars per year through the current system, but it does not serve public safety. This is one of the first ways we begin to make our criminal justice system fairer. We have to really begin to look at how do we bring equity and justice to criminal justice. No one is above the law but when we have operated in a state where 60% of those incarcerated in the county jail are simply there not because of their crime but because they can’t afford bail, then we rob them of the trust that the system is providing equal justice in the eyes of the law.
Bill Conway: I am committed to stopping the unjustified incarceration of nonviolent offenders, to to that end I appreciate that bail reform has enabled more of those nonviolent offenders to keep their freedom and their dignity. But when you have gun offenders getting arrested over the weekend and back on the streets by Monday afternoon, something isn’t working. We need to fix the system to make sure that those who pose a danger to our community aren’t just walking free.
Donna More: Bail reform is needed, but reducing the jail population shouldn’t be the driving force. We need reform because we must make more informed decisions on a case-by-case basis. Bail reform requires a close look at how we deal with detention in light of the nature of offenses, criminal history, likelihood of repeat offenses, mental health and addiction, and ties to the community. Non-violent offenders with little or no criminal history should be treated differently than violent offenders with criminal records. The point is, bail decisions should be based on community safety rather than cost.
Wholesale release of offenders has certainly reduced the jail population, but the cost savings are far outweighed by the price we pay in repeat violence and peace of mind. We need to shift emphasis, put safety ahead of cost reduction. A more rational approach means we can improve the system and stay in control of the jail population.
Bob Fioretti: Nobody wants to see someone languish in jail because they can’t afford a $100 bond. As a long-time civil rights attorney, I’ve long been an advocate for the poor and indigent receiving a fairer shake in the justice system. But I-bonds or home monitoring for car jackers and those who possess and use guns illegally defies common sense and definitely makes the public less safe. The current state’s attorney’s position on allowing the revolving door for violent criminals is indefensible and inexplicable.
What professional experience would you bring to the job of state’s attorney that would best qualify you to handle the office’s wide variety of criminal and civil cases?
Kim Foxx: I’ve been practicing law for over 20 years, and I am currently serving in the role of Cook County State’s Attorney. Prior to being elected to the State’s Attorney office, I served as Chief of Staff to the Cook County Board President. For over a decade I worked as an Assistant State’s Attorney and also served as a Senior Attorney in the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office.
Bill Conway: I was an Assistant State’s Attorney in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office from 2006-2012. In my first years there, I prosecuted a range of crimes including narcotics, misdemeanors, traffic cases, bond court and violent crime. From 2009-2012, I was in the Special Prosecutions Bureau in the Public Corruption and Financial Crimes unit. There, I prosecuted corruption, including embezzlement by local public officials. Since leaving the State’s Attorney’s Office, I have continued to do pro bono criminal work.
Since 2012, I have served as a Naval Intelligence Officer in the reserves. In 2017, I deployed to Qatar and Afghanistan to lead a team tasked with targeting the Taliban’s finances and disrupt the flow of weapons to fighters. I am bringing that experience to the State’s Attorney’s office so we can similarly disrupt the financing and import of illegal weapons into Cook County.
Donna More: The State’s Attorney’s job hinges on trust. Law enforcement needs to know the State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) we will press charges where evidence warrants. Citizens need to know the SAO will hold perpetrators accountable. Victims need to know the SAO is intent on delivering justice and fairness.
That’s the true definition of restorative justice. It’s not catch-and-release. It’s not i-bonding violent offenders (with electronic monitoring) onto the streets. It’s a balance of aggressive prosecution and compassionate justice.
I’m running because Foxx must be replaced by a competent prosecutor and an experienced lawyer or Cook County will continue to suffer from an epidemic of crime with violent and often fatal consequences.
I am the only candidate in the race with felony trial experience both as a state prosecutor and an assistant US attorney. No other candidate has my depth and breadth of professional and legal experience:
- As a prosecutor, I managed investigations and tried cases before state and fderal juries that have resulted in convictions of murderers, rapists, armed robbers and white-collar criminals.
- As a gaming regulator, I wrote regulations that govern casinos, oversaw compliance as the first General Counsel for the Illinois Gaming Board, and in so doing helped create a $1.5 billion, 20,000 employee industry for the state.
- As a business executive, I’ve helped manage a law firm with 900 lawyers, acted as managing partner of the Chicago office, and sat on the Boards of Directors of publicly traded companies.
- As a lawyer, I have been practicing continuously since 1984; and I am currently a civil litigator and recognized regulatory compliance expert.
- As an advocate, I gained pardons for three deserving young people who are now leading productive and fulfilling lives.
- As an educator, I have taught trial advocacy law at Kent for many years; this Spring I start as an adjunct professor at Northwestern in law and compliance.
As an active member of the legal profession, I’ve contributed to the community and/or been recognized by media and peers for my work.
o CBA Gaming Committee Chair (formed the group).
o President, 500-member International Association of Gaming Advisors.
o Articles for legal journals and mass media publications.
o Mentoring of legal associates.
o 2019 Crain’s Notable Women Lawyers
o 2018 Chicago Business Journal Women of Influence
o 2018 Women Worth Watching
o 2018 Trailblazer in Regulatory Compliance Law
o Best Lawyers in America (2016-2020)
o Pro-bono cases resulting in three pardons.
Bob Fioretti: I’m the only candidate in the race with wide-ranging experience in government, private practice and the political realm. I have served as an attorney in the Attorney General’s office and for the City of Chicago under both the first female and first African-American Mayor. I’ve helped those who were wrongfully accused and incarcerated while at the same time always strongly supporting law enforcement in their efforts to keep our communities safe.
Each candidate for state’s attorney has notable political supporters and donors. What would you do to assure that they do not have undue influence in your office?
Kim Foxx: We evaluate each case based on the facts, the evidence, and the law. We have also added an extra layer to ensure that we are operating with the highest integrity; in 2017, I hired the State’s Attorney’s Office’s first-ever Chief Ethics Officer. The role of the ethics officer is to ensure that the State’s Attorney and her assistant attorneys operate at the highest ethical standards.
Bill Conway: Under the current State’s Attorney, we have seen millions of dollars flow from taxpayers back to her politically connected fundraiser and his clients, and we have seen the well-connected walk free while others pay the price for the same crimes. Cook County citizens deserve a State’s Attorney that will guarantee justice for all, regardless of race, zip code, wealth, or political connections. My office will bring new standards of transparency and openness concerning decision-making and resource allocation so that there is no question about how we operate. We’re going to end preferential treatment and make sure that all cases are handled the same regardless of the characteristics of the defendant or victim. And, to combat the sweetheart settlements we’ve seen with property tax lawyers like Ed Burke, I am refusing campaign contributions from property tax lawyers, both now and in the future.
Donna More: I am devoted to one — and only one — influence: the law. My many donors know that money curries no favor with me when the law has been broken. Unlike my opponents, I am not beholden to or controlled by machine politicians and big money interests. One of my opponents is being financed by his billionaire father, whose company was run out of Illinois for engaging in pay-to-play schemes to win pension investment contracts. (Illinois subsequently passed a law to prevent these activities.) My independence from these interests is my greatest asset … and the machine’s greatest concern.
Bob Fioretti: I’d conduct myself the same way I did as Alderman. I did not accept campaign contributions from developers in my ward. According to various studies, I was the most Independent Alderman during my two terms. I voted the interest of my ward. As State’s Attorney, no campaign contribution, no call from Very Important People and no political boss will influence any decision I make. The same as when I was Alderman.
What would you do to shorten the delay between charge and trial for defendants in Cook County Jail?
Kim Foxx: One of the biggest changes we have made to shorten the delays we have seen between charges and trial length is implementing our discretion chart. This chart works to empower line ASA’s to be decision-makers and to craft the best, fairest, outcomes in their cases. Through this effort, cases have been handled more efficiently by diverting some to specialty courts while reducing the felony cases backlog. Additionally, the number of two-year-old cases has decreased by 5%; and the number of two-year-old murders has been reduced by 13%.
Bill Conway: One of the first things I will do as State’s Attorney is conduct a full review of the office’s budgets. Once we know how our money is being spent, we can reallocate resources more effectively, and that includes streamlining the prosecution pipeline.
Donna More: This problem can be largely resolved by training prosecutors to develop cases so that they are “ready for trial” in the first instance. Prosecutors should minimize the number of occasions when the State’s Attorney’s Office consents to “by agreement” dates because it is easy. Agreeing with defendant’s counsel to “kick the case” stops the speedy trial clock, leaving the defendant sitting in jail without his day in court. Answering “ready for trial” pressures defense counsel to also get “ready for trial” or pay the consequences with their own clients.
There is nothing the State can do on a defendant’s motion to continue, but at some point the State can seek a judge’s support to set a trial date. We need to do this more often.
An informed relationship with law enforcement can also shorten trial date times. If police know what to look for and what is needed for trial at the outset, the State’s Attorney can get to trial readiness much more quickly.
Bob Fioretti: More resources are needed for both prosecutors and public defenders. But the fact is some defense attorneys see delay as an advantage for their clients and use it as a tactic. The reduction of the defendants stuck in jail for lack of cash bond has already shortened the delays or at least made them more bearable for the defendants who can be with their families while awaiting trial. Also I have advocated for the County to have its very own crime lab. The large backlog of evidence at the State Police Crime Lab is one reason for sometimes long delays in trial dates for Cook County defendants.
The civil division of the U.S. attorney’s office collects judgments that return to taxpayers three times more money than the budget of the office. The Cook County state’s attorney’s civil division recovers far less money. Why is that? What would you do about it?
Kim Foxx: The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Civil Action Bureau (CAB) serves the County’s 5.4 million residents with limited resources. Under my watch, the Civil Actions Bureau has increased personnel to nearly 80 Assistant State’s Attorneys which has enabled us to increase the number cases we handle to over 25,000 a year. Furthermore, we’ve seen an eleven percent increase in revenue from the previous fiscal year. Previously, CAB attorneys had been handling more than two and a half times the caseload of their peers. Under my leadership, we’ve reduced that caseload, increased efficiency, and productivity, while increasing revenue. In the last few years, our CAB team has also defeated unfair federal immigration policies that attacked our most vulnerable citizens’ rights, defeated a 2nd amendment threat to Cook County’s common-sense assault weapons ban, and demanded accountability from opioid manufacturers, Uber, and Facebook, who put people at risk.
Bill Conway: In her first year alone, our current State’s Attorney approved nearly $80 million in property tax appeals, millions of which went to clients of her donors and allies. That money doesn’t just come out of nowhere — it’s drained from local governments. When she approved nearly $2 million in refunds to Ed Burke’s client, more than half came out of the budget for Barrington schools. I am open to evaluating the finances of our civil division, but first we need to stop funneling taxpayer dollars to the politically connected.
Donna More: The incumbent has not taken advantage of this revenue source for taxpayers. Instead, she cut staff in the civil division by half and then infamously outsourced the work to private firms. She also knew that the County paid $500 an hour for legal services, well over the permissible government rate.
The head of the Civil Division who engaged in this “kick back” to his previous firm was never investigated for theft of honest services or official misconduct. This is another glaring instance of Foxx’s inexperience and lapsing ethics. She should have recused the SAO and referred this case to the Illinois Attorney General for investigation. She also should have referred her Civil Division Chief to the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) for investigation. Foxx may be guilty of a Himmel violation in her own right. SCOTUS’ Himmel decision holds that any attorney’s license can be suspended for failing to report misconduct by another attorney.
Under the code of ethics for lawyers, we are required to report such activity or our own licenses are threatened.
Foxx also touts her policy of not prosecuting non-violent drug possessors. But what she doesn’t say is how much money the practice is costing the County in civil forfeitures of dealer assets. Could be tens of millions each year. It is another misguided policy that has to be reversed.
Bob Fioretti: This is one of the great failures of the current state’s attorney’s office. I would be more aggressive in the civil arena. For example, despite a large number of Sterigenics potential victims living in Cook County, not a peep was heard from Kim Foxx. Also, many don’t realize that the state’s attorney’s office is the last defense against outrageous property tax lawyers such as Ed Burke. I would closely scrutinize each outrageously large break and go to court to reverse them when necessary.
What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
Kim Foxx: I most admire Ida B. Wells. Ida B Wells was a civil rights and women’s rights activist. As a journalist she sought to expose the horrors of racial violence of the south in the deep racial divide in Chicago. She was steadfast in her believe that African-American leadership was critical to the advancement of our communities in particular the leadership of African-American women.
Bill Conway: Clarence Darrow. Darrow’s work standing up for America’s working families helped inspire our country’s populist movement. He defended and defined our constitutional rights, and while it could not have been easy taking on entrenched powers, Darrow’s commitment to justice helped build a fairer legal system for generations to follow.
Donna More: Carl Sandburg, Pulitzer Prize winning poet and portrayer of all things Chicago — “Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders” — penned the words that inspire my career and fuel my passion to repair the criminal justice system: “Nothing happens unless first we dream!”
Bob Fioretti: Marty Bartelme. She was the first female judge elected in Illinois a big focus of her work was around juvenile justice. I thought so much of her, I created a park and named it after her. There is a biography of her etched in a plaque in her honor on the north west corner of the park at Monroe and Sangamon. I hope people that visit and enjoy the park take a moment to read about this exceptional woman who is such an important part of our history of justice in Illinois.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
Kim Foxx: The Wire
Bill Conway: The Wire. It was the first of its kind to accurately portray the interconnectedness of the problems facing a major metropolitan city like Baltimore. Also Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba, and Wendell Pierce. Enough said.
Donna More: Hallmark movies. Yes, Hallmark movies! They always have a happy ending and they always convey a sense of hope for the future.
Bob Fioretti: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; Young Sheldon
Source : CST Editorial Board Link