Mihalopoulos: Trial experience claims a defining issue for Kim Foxx

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Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez (right) and her opponents in the March 15 Democratic primary election, Kim Foxx (left) and Donna More, debate before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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Petro’s restaurant isn’t a grand jury room, and Cook County state’s attorney hopeful Kim Foxx isn’t president of the United States.

Still, I thought of former President Bill Clinton and his notorious testimony regarding Monica Lewinsky — “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” — when Foxx met meTuesdayat a diner near City Hall and the Thompson Center.

The focus of much of my interview with Foxx was what the meaning of the word “trial” is. Whether she has inflated her record as a lawyer hinges on how you define what it means for a lawyer to try a case.

“I’ve tried hundreds of cases, everything from murder to rape to drug possession and gun cases,” Foxx had told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington last month.

When Washington asked to clarify whether she was referring to felony cases, Foxx replied, “Hundreds of felony cases.”

So I filed a public records request with the state’s attorney’s office to get a list ofall of the felony cases Foxx tried during her 12 years as an assistant state’s attorney, from 2001 to 2013. Though public officials often dawdle at least as long as legally possible to answer such requests, aides to the embattled incumbent state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, quickly replied this time.

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They said there was a single case — just one — in the Felony Trial Division where Foxx worked with a more experienced prosecutor to win guilty verdicts against the two defendants.

There is no record of her ever trying a murder case, they said.

Foxx spent all but a few months of her career as an assistant state’s attorney in the office’s Juvenile Justice Bureau, where she was listed as having worked on hundreds of cases. Many of them involved crimes that would have been felonies if they involved adult offenders.

Almost all of those juvenile cases were settled before going to trial, the records show. And Alvarez aides said they went through those case files and found Foxx tried only one juvenile case involving a felony crime, a drug possession case that yielded a guilty verdict.

This is where the semantic debate begins. Foxx says her count had included those juvenile cases that yielded guilty pleas or were described in records as ending in “nolle” — a Latin word meaning the state’s attorney’s office dropped the case, choosing not to prosecute it.

Had you only counted her cases that went to trial, Foxx said, the total “would not be in the hundreds but close to 100.”

I suggested that it seemed she shouldn’t say she tried a case unless there was an actual trial, with a jury or judge rendering a verdict.

“Literally nobody defines it that way,” Foxx replied.

Foxx said that the office of Alvarez — the two-term incumbent she is challenging in the Democratic primary onMarch 15— had purposely given me a list that was missing many cases she had worked on.

“It is extremely incomplete,” she said. “I did try quite a few cases. This is crazy to me.”

Alvarez’s aides said what they gave me is everything they have on Foxx.

The challenger and her former colleagues in the state’s attorney’s office also differ on Foxx’s role in prosecuting the perpetrators of the notorious beating death of Fenger High School student Derrion Albert. Foxx said she was “the supervising prosecutor” in the Fenger case, which went to trial in 2011.

Jim Papa, who was the lead courtroom prosecutor in the trial and still works in the state’s attorney’s office, took issue with that, sayingTuesday, “She had no input in the case when we tried it.”

No matter how you define her record, Foxx said, she “did many, many, many cases for peoplelike me,” citing her upbringing in the Cabrini-Green housing project.

“I’ve led my career with integrity,” Foxx said. “I’m trying to run for this office because it impacts people who come from neighborhoods like mine more than other parts of the county.”

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