Running for: Cook County State’s Attorney
Political party affiliation: Libertarian
Political/civic background: Upset citizen
Occupation: Attorney and accountant
Education: BBA Campbell University, JD/LL.M DePaul College of Law
Campaign website: DENNEHYFORCOOKCOUNTY.COM (Pending)
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent the nominees for Cook County State’s Attorney a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues. Brian Dennehy submitted the following responses:
How should the street violence of the summer of 2020 reshape the state’s attorney’s office approach to crime?
The street violence of this summer has revealed the limitations of incarceration and police power as a solution to social ills. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (“CCSAO”) can best use its limited resources in the prosecution of persons who cause actual harm to others through acts of theft, property damage and violence. Where possible, the CCSAO should seek to address acts of the offender through restitution with the goal of making the victim whole for their loss rather than retribution through incarceration. Restitution made by the offenders to the victims of the recent looting would be preferable to incarceration.
Please address the criticism of the office by police Supt David Brown, who has said there are “zero consequences” for those who are arrested on certain gun charges. He says this has allowed the people behind gang gun violence to get back on the streets and commit more crime.
I affirm the right of every person to own and use firearms in defense of life, liberty, and justly acquired property. I abhor the use of firearms in acts of aggression and violence. Where a person uses a firearm in such acts, they should be vigorously prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The unlawful use of weapons, referenced by Supt David Brown, includes acts such as carrying a firearm without a valid FOID card – a nonviolent offense. I would request he clarify the gun charges he’s specifically referencing to determine if these violations are of licensing requirements or acts of aggression or violence.
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?
It’s easy to criticize decisions made by others with the benefit of hindsight and without knowing all the facts known to the decision maker at the time. Based on the memo provided by Dan Webb, certain actions taken by the CCSAO may appear improper. Additionally, the final disposition of the case lends credence to claims of a two-tiered criminal justice system – one for the wealthy & well-connected and one for everyone else. The seriousness of the accusations made by Jussie Smollett had the potential to incite racial or gender-based animosity. A proper resolution of the case may have required Jussie Smollett to, at a minimum, admit the falsehood of his statements in order to deescalate public sentiment surrounding the events. At this point, the issue is better left to the ARDC to decide and candidate discussions should be limited to the good of the people in a very challenging time.
When is it appropriate to recruit the FBI and United States attorney’s office for assistance in cases that usually fall under state jurisdiction?
I would avoid seeking the assistance of federal authorities in addressing Illinois’ cases. Where a case requires more resources or expertise than those available to the CCSAO, I would seek the assistance of the Illinois Attorney General and defer to recommendations made by that office.
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?
My assumption is that the CCSAO lacked sufficient resources or evidence to either conduct a proper investigation or to prosecute those cases. Where the State’s Attorney had such resources or evidence, I believe those cases would have been thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.
What should the office’s priorities be?
As a society, we should re-evaluate the wisdom of maintaining and enforcing layers of laws that end in a confrontation with the police and a person being locked in a cage. I find it difficult to morally justify prosecuting and incarcerating adult persons engaged in peaceful, voluntary activities such as drug possession & distribution or consensual sex work. The prosecution of these types of crimes utilizes scarce resources that could otherwise be used towards the prosecution of actual violence and property crimes such as looting.
By any objective measure, the War on Drugs has failed. Illegal drugs continue to flow, have become more dangerous, and the illegality creates a lucrative and violent black-market trade similar to that experienced during the prohibition of alcohol. Ultimately, the decriminalization of drugs can and should be addressed by legislators. However, the CCSAO can use its discretion to focus investigations and prosecutions on those persons engaged in high-level drug trafficking.
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?
The relationship between the CCSAO, the FOP and police appears strained. A primary purpose of the FOP is to represent the interests of police officers. The representation of the FOP continues during times individual police officers are accused of improper acts. As such, the CCSAO and the FOP may at times have competing positions that ultimately serve the ends of truth & justice. During all times, it’s essential to assure the public that the underlying spirit of cooperation between the CCSAO, the FOP, and the police to remains focused on protecting public safety.
It concerns me when I see police officers on patrol without a partner. No police officer should ever be alone when patrolling. A single officer is at a higher risk and has more fear than an officer who has a trusted partner at their side. This fear may lead to officers to resort to the use of force when the presence of a partner may deter a suspect from acting aggressively and avoid such a confrontation. I would work with all relevant parties to ascertain the viability of always maintaining at least two officers in every patrol.
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?
While the CCSAO can make recommendations on bond conditions, a judge makes the final decision. Any recommendation should be based on the danger of releasing the accused and the likelihood the accused will return for their next court appearance. The use of cash bail as a condition of release is currently the subject of significant discussion. I expect that the judiciary will properly address the issue and ensure that poverty isn’t criminalized and impoverished people aren’t pressured to accept a plea bargain for the sole purpose of securing their release.
We are in the midst of the COVID epidemic. Cook County jail had been sited as a hotbed of infection. I support the release of nonviolent offenders who are presumed innocent while awaiting trial. Given the number of persons involved, looters present a difficult problem. Where possible, the CCSAO should look to release these persons subject to electronic monitoring and supervision while they make restitution to the victims either through money or labor.
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?
As an attorney and accountant working in the tax field, I’ve read hundreds if not thousands of statutes, cases, regulations, and commentaries on complex issues impacting my clients. I have a sophisticated understanding of the meaning of legal phrases and how those phrases may cause confusion for a layman. My cursory experience with criminal laws shows the same basic issue and leads me to question whether the average person understands the myriad of violations that could result in their long-term incarceration. As a former Marine, I have training in the use of force and an appreciation for the camaraderie and trust necessary for well-functioning & safe patrols as well as fluidity of situations involving the use of force.
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’m not currently accepting donations. I’m not beholden to any person or political party. If I change my position, I would limit such acceptance to small donations by individual donors.
What would you do to shorten the delay between charge and trial for defendants in Cook County Jail?
I would shorten the delay by lessening the number of defendants being charged and tried for voluntary acts committed by consenting adults.
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?
I’m highly suspect of the potential for abuse of fines or forfeiture as a source of revenues. Where the judgment concerns an unpaid tax obligation, my expertise is well-suited for collection.
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.
Clyde Tombaugh discovered the “planet” Pluto. I admire the curiosity and patience of someone dedicated to exploring the secrets of the universe. Someday, people will have to leave Earth to survive. People like Clyde Tombaugh will make that eventually a reality and secure our future.
What’s your favorite TV, streaming or web-based show of all time. Why?
South Park is the best show ever. The artists involved have an incredible ability to highlight the absurdities that are part of our daily lives with humor and levity. I look forward to the next season covering this crazy year.