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Donna More, Cook County State’s Attorney Democratic candidate profile

She is a former state and federal prosecutor.

Donna More, 2020 Cook County State’s Attorney Democratic primary election candidate.
Donna More, Cook County State’s Attorney Democratic primary candidate.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Candidate profile

Donna More

Running for: Cook County State’s Attorney

Political/civic background: Former state and federal prosecutor; general counsel for state agency; Adler Women’s Board; CEO Board of Chicago Hope; pro bono legal work; previous candidate for state’s attorney (2016).

Occupation: Attorney

Education: Georgetown Law, JD; Northwestern, MA; Tufts, BA

Campaign website: donnamore.com

Facebook: @DonnaMoreSA

Twitter: @donnamore_SA


The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates for Cook County State’s Attorney a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues. Donna More submitted the following responses:

On January 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?

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 across the US. 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 s 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 were made.

When is it appropriate to recruit the FBI and United States attorney’s office for assistance in cases that usually fall under state jurisdiction?

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.

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?

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.

What should the office’s priorities be?

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 that 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.

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?

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 [1] follow the law (rather than make it up) and [2] 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.

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?

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.

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?

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. I’ve argued in the Illinois Appellate and Supreme Courts and in the Seventh Circuit Court.

• 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.

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?

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-for-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.

What would you do to shorten the delay between charge and trial for defendants in Cook County Jail?

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 onset, the State’s Attorney can get to trial readiness much more quickly.

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?

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 an 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.

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.

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!”

What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?

Hallmark movies. Yes, Hallmark movies! They always have a happy ending and they always convey a sense of hope for the future.