State’s attorney hopefuls spar over McDonald case, conflicts

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Cook County State’s Attorney candidates Kim Foxx, left, and Christopher E.K. Pfannkuche. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The two candidates for Cook County State’s Attorney squared off Tuesday — with Republican Christopher Pfannkuche vowing to launch an investigation into Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s involvement in the Laquan McDonald case, and Democrat Kim Foxx defending her consulting work with a powerful law firm.

With just seven weeks until the election, the two met face-to-face before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board.

Pfannkuche, a career prosecutor who left the State’s Attorney’s office in 2011 for a private firm, said, if elected, he’d look into whether Emanuel withheld the McDonald video so as not to hurt his re-election chances, even urging that he’d “impanel a grand jury,” “subpoena every text message” and “every email.”

Foxx called Pfannkuche’s remarks “inappropriate.”

But the Republican said: “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.”

“If the mayor or anyone else did anything to withhold that video through any political reason, that’s obstruction of justice,” he said.

When pressed what evidence or “smoke” shows Emanuel should be under investigation, Pfannkuche backed off: “If there is any evidence when I get into office, I will launch an investigation.”

Later he further distanced himself from the insinuation: “Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that I’m indicting him on Day One. I am not saying that I’m indicting him at all.”

Foxx, who was a staunch critic of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s handling of the McDonald case and used her opposition in campaign ads, was criticial of her opponent’s notion.

“There is a responsibility that we have as lawyers to look at individual cases and facts to review evidence, to do it in a manner that is respectful to the process,” Foxx said. “To suggest that you could sit and say who you are going to investigate and target, particularly other elected officials without substantive evidence that one would have to do that, is not appropriate.”

Foxx’s criticism of the city’s and Alvarez’s handling of the McDonald case were central to Foxx’s successful primary campaign against Alvarez.

Foxx, who previously served as chief of staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, said she disagreed with former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy’s assessment on Monday that he wouldn’t have recommended the public release of the video.

“The No. 1 priority is ensuring the integrity of the investigation. When you release the video is the question, not should you release the video,” Foxx said.

RELATED: Brown: GOP state’s attorney hopeful blows smoke to make sparks

Foxx’s own legal career has come into the spotlight during her run for state’s attorney. Foxx joined personal injury firm Powers Rogers & Smith as a consultant last September, after taking a month off to prepare for the campaign. The firm has sued Cook County and settled big money cases, including several medical malpractice suits. She said her work at the firm wasn’t a “secret,” and said no one had asked her about what she was doing until February.

During a question and answer session after a Feb. 18 City Club of Chicago luncheon, Foxx was asked whether she is currently practicing law. She did not name the firm, but did confirm the work: “So I’m not practicing law. I’m doing review, legal review work, to help me continue to allow Kendall to have shoes on her feet, and so we’re looking at all kinds of cases, police misconduct cases, cases involving civil liabilities. So I do a Jackie of all trades. But not practicing law. I’m running for this campaign full-time. It needs my full effort.”

Foxx and her campaign on Tuesday said she is not involved in legal review of cases involving Cook County or Chicago.

But Pfannkuche argued that if lawsuits are brought before the county from her firm should she win, it would pose a “direct conflict of interest,” and challenged her to recuse herself.

“Right now, yes I do work for a law firm that has had litigation with the county of Cook. I have not been engaged in any litigation or any work with that firm regarding the county of Cook or Chicago,” Foxx said.

Foxx said “if an actual conflict arises” she’d obey her ethical obligations.

“Should a conflict of interest arise, certainly we would look at the conflict and remedy that and that could be anything from recusing ourselves from the case, and having someone else looking on it. But there is no conflict merely because there is a potential that they could have a suit against the county,” Foxx said.

Foxx also defended other consulting work she’s done, without listing the clients she consults for. She said in addition to her legal review work, she’s also done “smaller projects unrelated to law firms and unrelated to any other litigation in Cook County.” But she has not disclosed those and will not until it’s time to update her disclosure forms, she said.

“The names of those clients, again, those are personal clients. I cannot divulge under an ethical obligation that I have in a privileged relationship,” Foxx said.

But client information won’t be listed in the statement of economic interest, just financials.

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