Voters deserve full story, spelled out by Foxx, of what went down in Jussie Smollett case
State’s Attorney Kim Foxx should simply admit she and her office did not handle the case properly.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx needs to come clean with the public.
In a news release on Monday, Special Prosecutor Dan Webb said Foxx and her office abused prosecutorial discretion and made several false and misleading statements about the Jussie Smollett hate-crime prosecution, in which Foxx dropped 16 felony counts and settled for a penalty of 15 hours of community service and forfeiture of Smollett’s $10,000 bond.
Webb’s charge is a serious one. Cook County’s top prosecutor must be above reproach.
Whether the state’s attorney’s office dismisses a case or brings charges — whether it treats all criminal defendants with the same even hand — dramatically impacts people’s lives. “Heater” cases, such as that of Smollett, who is accused of staging a phony hate crime, shine a light on how fairly and responsibly the office is functioning, how professionally its judgments are made, and how clearly and honestly it is communicating with the public.
Yet according to Webb, a former federal prosecutor with stellar legal credentials, Foxx’s office failed on all counts.
No more spin
Foxx should simply admit that she and her office did not handle the Smollett case properly. No more spin or prevarications. But instead, a statement released by Foxx’s office on Monday starts out by noting that Webb’s report “puts to rest any implications of outside influence or criminal activity on the part of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.” And Foxx denies making any intentionally false statements to the public.
Foxx is holding herself to an insufficient ethical standard. The concept of not guilty beyond reasonable doubt is for crime suspects. Public officials, particularly state’s attorneys, should be held — and hold themselves — to a higher standard.
In her 3 1⁄2 years as state’s attorney, Foxx has done much that we applaud. She has strengthened her office’s conviction integrity unit. She has dropped convictions en masse that were connected to disgraced ex-Chicago police Sgt. Ronald Watts and his crew, who extorted bribes from drug dealers and innocent people. She has adamantly refused — and you might assume this is the norm among the nation’s prosecutors, but it is not — to bring criminal charges against anybody on the basis of doubtful evidence.
Moreover, we don’t agree with every finding or evaluation in Webb’s report. Webb wrote that Foxx, in a Chicago Tribune op-ed, had “falsely represented” that her office believed “the likelihood of securing a conviction” of Smollett “was not certain.” Any lawyer will tell you the likelihood of securing a conviction is never certain — in any case.
Foxx may be reluctant to publicly discuss her role in the Smollett case because Webb intends to refer it to the Illinois Attorney Disciplinary and Registration Commission for a possible breach of ethics probe. This would put Foxx at risk of losing her law license. As a rule, lawyers are hesitant to publicly discuss issues that will be part of any legal proceeding.
But as a prominent public official, Foxx doesn’t really have that choice. There’s an election coming up, on Nov. 3, and the voters have questions. She needs to be fully transparent about what she got right and wrong.
Foxx should address three specific issues arising from Webb’s report.
First, Webb, who in February restored the charges against Smollett, says Foxx and her office lied or made misleading statements. From the evidence he has assembled, it appears Foxx doubled down on a false narrative about the decisions she made in the case when she should have fessed up, spelled out the true facts and taken her medicine.
Second, Foxx needs to assure the public that any inadequate management and understanding of the law that contributed to the Smollett debacle has been rectified. It looks like Foxx’s office overcharged Smollett to begin with. Then when Smollett’s legal team refused to accept a guilty plea to lesser charges, she quietly tried to walk away from the case while misrepresenting how it had played out.
The people of Cook County want to feel confident this is not part of a pattern. We’re told that top reform-minded prosecutors she brought in became disillusioned with her management style and left. We’re told some public defenders are not happy with the pace of reform. In the statement put out by her office on Monday, Foxx pointed to the hiring of a new ethics officer and other changes. She needs to explain why that is enough.
Third, Foxx, a protégé of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, has to make clear there will be no hint of political or other influence in her office. Webb’s report clears Foxx of just that accusation in this case, but it also confirms there were texts and calls by Foxx to Smollett’s sister even after he was a suspect. “I don’t think Kim Foxx would respond to a text message from me,” a prominent lawyer who is a Foxx supporter told us. “It is just weird.”
Still a head-scratcher
From the beginning, the Smollett case has not added up — neither Smollett’s nor Foxx’s version. Unfortunately, even after Webb’s news release and Foxx’s response, it remains a bizarre head-scratcher.
Foxx cannot leave it in that condition. We deserve a complete and forthright explanation.
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