‘Political’ prosecutors normal in Cook County
by RUSS STEWART
In Cook County, particularly in the State’s Attorney’s Office, voters are extremely tolerant of an occupant who engages in multi-tasking, namely, being a politician, a protector and a prosecutor who may on occasion prosecute some politicians and cops but whose primary task is to protect everyone else and keep the County Jail full.
With crime approaching intolerable levels, murders and shootings a daily occurrence, and the courts and the jail clogged with defendants awaiting trial or disposition, a tough-as-nails prosecutor should be in high demand. Shouldn’t somebody be demanding "law and order," or tougher sentences and longer jail terms, or speedier trials or higher bonds? Not a chance.
Kim Foxx, the Democratic candidate for state’s attorney, who will be elected in a landslide on Nov. 8, is a politician, a lifelong bureaucrat and a puppet for her mentor, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Both are black. Foxx clearly understands the reality of racial, county, Democratic and office politics.
Racial politics. Foxx’s political base is in the black community, and she trounced 8-year incumbent Anita Alvarez in the March primary largely because of Alvarez’s dilatory handling of the Laquan McDonald case, which resulted in an indictment of the police shooter only after the video was ordered released by a judge. Alvarez apparently was "protecting" Mayor Rahm Emanuel for as long as she could, which was long enough to get him re-elected. Black voters were enraged, and Foxx won 645,738-317,594, with 140,063 votes for Donna More. Foxx carried the predominantly black wards and townships with more than 70 percent of the vote.
Also, black voters don’t want a "tough prosecutor," as that is to them code for convicting and incarcerating more minority defendants than white defendants, especially on felony drug cases. Never mind that much more crime is committed in black and Hispanic areas by blacks and Hispanics than in white areas by whites. Foxx is one of those forward thinkers who believe that a predilection to commit crime can be cured and should not be punished.
County politics. Foxx was Preckwinkle’s $181,876 chief of staff until 2015, and she clearly comprehends the cost of keeping prisoners in jail and the political peril to Preckwinkle of having to find money to pay for them. The cost per inmate is $143 per day, with more than 10,000 inmates.
Preckwinkle was outspokenly critical of Alvarez’s policy of setting high bonds in felony cases and then delaying trial. As a result, the County Jail is clogged with thousands of detainees too impoverished to post bond, who sit there for 12 to 18 months, half of whom, at substantial cost, are bused to outlying courthouses for numerous court dates.
Democratic politics. Democratic political insiders of all races need to know that their Democratic state’s attorney intuitively knows who not to investigate, indict or prosecute. They want a "cover my back" state’s attorney. Alvarez knew her role, and she dawdled for years on the case in which Mayor Rich Daley’s nephew killed David Koschman in a boozy fight outside a Rush Street bar. Like in the McDonald case, Alvarez’s office’s investigation was interminable, prompting a judge to order a special prosecutor to do Alvarez’s job, which resulted in the indictment and conviction of R.J. Vanecko.
Foxx’s obscure Republican opponent, Christopher Pfannkuche, is a 36-year assistant state’s attorney, meaning a courtroom prosecutor, who retired in 2011. He caught a blip when he averred that, if elected, he would empanel a grand jury to investigate Emanuel’s handling of the McDonald video, speculating that the mayor could be charged with official misconduct, obstruction of justice and honest services fraud. Oh, my. Where did this guy come from?
Pfannkuche is the kind of loose cannon that could cause real anxiety, sort of reminiscent of Ben Adamowski back in the 1950s, but the Democrats are unworried. The Republican candidate for state’s attorney got 23 percent of the vote in 2012, 27 percent in 2008, 21 percent in 2004 and 18 percent in 2000. Pfannkuche had $5,846 in campaign cash on hand June 30, and he will be lucky to crack 20 percent of the vote. The Democrats will be in good hands with Preckwinkle — oops, I mean Foxx.
Office politics. The courtroom standard operating procedure under Alvarez has been "CYA," which is an abbreviation for something like don’t lose sight of your backside, and especially not Alvarez’s backside. It works like this: The assistant state’s attorney must get a plea and a conviction, however long it takes, so Alvarez can boast of a near-universal conviction rate. The ASA must not reduce the charges, as the defendant could commit more crimes after release, exposing Alvarez to accusations that she is "coddling criminals." If necessary, the ASA must take the case to trial, passing the buck to the judge or jury. At the preliminary hearing, the ASA requests a hefty bond, which keeps most non-white defendants in jail to await trial.
That creates congestive felony courtroom failure. Case disposition does not happen quickly. The indigent defendants use overworked and overwhelmed public defenders and get superficial service. The more affluent use a private attorney. Then the ordeal begins. Discovery, the production of all police records, is tendered by the assistant state’s attorney on the first or second court date, and then a pre-trial investigation is ordered, which takes the Probation Department 45 to 60 days. Then there’s a 402 conference with the judge. That’s 5 to 6 months. Any disposition offer, which invariably involves jail time, must be authorized by the ASA’s supervisor, and any defendant counter offer also must be approved, meaning more continuances. Eventually, the weary defendant and the exasperated attorney cop a plea to one of the original charges. Those incarcerated get credit for "time served, and Alvarez notches a conviction.
Another criticism of Alvarez is her personnel policy. She has canned most veteran male prosecutors, and almost every felony courtroom has two female assistant state’s attorneys, many hired directly from out-of-state law schools. In the good old days, Democratic politicians could get the kid of a buddy or donor a job as an ASA, where he could hone his skills for private practice for a few years. Under Alvarez, "clout" hiring was nonexistent, and the female ASAs stay on the job for 10 to 20 years.
The primary was a referendum on Alvarez, and Foxx beat her because voters concluded that Alvarez was too much the politician and protector and too little the prosecutor. Yet Alvarez was not much different than her Democratic predecessors, nor will Foxx be. She will, however, be the first African American elected to the office, which she could use as a steppingstone to the Chicago mayoralty in 2019 or 2023. Here are prior incumbents:
John Gutknecht (1952 to 1956): He typified the do nothing/say nothing/investigate nothing type so treasured by Democratic politicians. He also was a sop to the "German vote."
Ben Adamowski (1956 to 1960): Known as the "Polish Prince," Adamowski was elected to the General Assembly before the age of 30 from the Damen-Milwaukee-Division Polish neighborhood. He ran for mayor in 1955, finishing third in the primary behind Richard J. Daley and Mayor Martin Kennelly. Adamowski then switched parties, ran for state’s attorney in 1956, and rode the Eisenhower landslide to a narrow victory. He spent 4 years probing the Daley Administration and prosecuting the Summerdale Police District scandal, in which cops committed burglaries. Adamowski was preparing for a 1963 mayoral bid, making Daley very nervous. Had he won in 1960 and uncovered more "corruption," he might have beaten Daley. Even so, he got 45 percent of the vote for mayor.
Dan Ward (1960 to 1966): Adamowski had to go, and Daley knew no Gutknecht type would do, so he recruited Ward, a DePaul law school professor who narrowly won in 1960, an election in which tens of thousands of fraudulent votes allegedly were cast in Chicago, tipping the state to John Kennedy by 8,858 votes. Ward was a time server, and he got booted up to the state Supreme Court in 1966.
Ed Hanrahan (1968 to 1972): A former federal prosecutor, West Sider Hanrahan had two goals, to be a crime buster and to be Daley’s successor as mayor. He was on track until his police agents conducted a raid in which two Black Panthers were killed in 1969. Black rage swelled and Hanrahan was dumped, but he won the three-way 1972 primary. Daley did nothing to aid Hanrahan, and black voters heavily backed Republican Bernie Carey, who narrowly won. Exit Hanrahan.
Rich Daley (1980 to 1989): Everybody knew that the mayor’s son was supposed to be the mayor’s successor, and he put his namesake in the Illinois Senate in 1972. The elder Daley died in 1977, and Jane Byrne won for mayor in 1979. The younger Daley needed a more viable office, like state’s attorney. Byrne backed Ed Burke in the 1980 primary, but Daley won 60-40. His office’s watchword was simple: Don’t make any mistakes; just create a perception of competence and wait. Daley ran for mayor in 1983, finishing third, with Harold Washington beating Byrne. Daley knew that his time would come, and it did after Washington’s death in 1989,
Dick Devine (1996 to 2008): Devine was Daley’s first assistant, and he really ran the office. After Republican Jack O’Malley beat flawed Democrats in 1990 and 1992, he made the mistake of prosecuting black congressman Mel Reynolds on sex abuse charges. Devine was in the right place at the right time. Devine’s tenure is memorable for being unmemorable.
Will Foxx be any different? If visions of the mayoralty start dancing in her head, she may decide to make Emanuel’s life miserable.
Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.