Gov. Pritzker taps two lawyers for Prisoner Review Board — one a former aide to past nemesis Bruce Rauner

Asked why the governor turned to a high-ranking former Rauner staffer for the appointment, Pritzker’s spokeswoman pointed to Rodger Heaton’s background.

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Democrat candidate J.B. Pritzker, left, and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, right, square off in a debate in 2018.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (left) named a former high-ranking member of the staff of Republican former Gov. Bruce Rauner to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.

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A week after two of his appointees to the state’s Prisoner Review Board were ousted — one by the Illinois Senate and another by a preemptive resignation — Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday named two new choices, one who was a top aide to a past rival, former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Pritzker appointed Chicago lawyers Rodger Heaton and Robin Shoffner to the controversial board, according to appointment letters sent Friday to the Illinois secretary of state’s office.

The Senate unanimously approved the appointments before adjournment early Saturday. The Senate also confirmed two Pritzker appointees to the board who had been awaiting confirmation — Jared Bohland and Ken Tupy, both Republicans.

Bringing the appointments for a vote during the regular session helped Pritzker avoid criticism afterward, especially during a heated re-election campaign in which he and other Democrats are being accused by Republicans as being soft on crime.

And amid those accusations, Pritzker’s board now has five Republicans and three Democrats on the 15-member board, which requires eight for a quorum. The posts pay $89,443 a year.

A former U.S. attorney for central Illinois, Heaton was Rauner’s third chief of staff in 2017 during what was a tumultuous year full of staff turnover, firings and drama. Besides earlier serving as Rauner’s public safety director and homeland security adviser, Heaton also was chairman of the Statewide Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

Heaton is a partner at the Chicago-based law firm McGuire Woods.

Asked why the Democratic governor turned to a high-ranking former Rauner staffer for the appointment, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh pointed to Heaton’s background.

“The board has specific requirements for party and region,” Abudayyeh said. “He expressed interest and has the right qualifications to serve.”

Shoffner is a partner at Nathan & Kaminski, and previously was a civil trial judge for the Cook County circuit court. She also was a trial attorney for the federal civil rights division of the city of Chicago’s corporation counsel’s office.

Then Judge Robin Shoffner at a fundraiser in 2017.

Then-Judge Robin Shoffner at a fundraiser in 2017.

Maria Cardona/Sun-Times file

Last week, 14 Senate Democrats joined Republicans to reject Pritzker’s nominee Eleanor Wilson, and 12 other Democrats refused to vote at all. Pritzker’s other appointee, Oreal James, resigned from his post earlier that day to avoid what many expected to be a similar rejection.

Pritzker’s two appointees drew criticism from lawmakers — and from Republican primary candidate for governor Richard Irvin — for their votes to free Joseph Hurst and Johnny Veal, who were convicted of killing Chicago police officers.

Urging a no vote on the Senate floor nearly two weeks ago, state Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said Wilson’s votes to release “cop-killers” send a “troubling message to the family members of these officers that their sacrifice ... is somehow insignificant.”

The Senate rejection was a sharp rebuke to the Democratic governor, who had faced GOP-led accusations about the transparency of his appointments and the decisions of his nominees.

The board’s duties include deciding which prisoners are eligible for parole and reviewing recommendations for executive clemency.

State Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro.

State Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, opposes the appointment of Eleanor Wilson, on the Senate floor last month.

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The day after that Senate rejection, Pritzker gave an impassioned defense of the “incredibly thankless job” the appointees do on the board — and delivered a blistering attack on the Republican critics — comparing them to QAnon conspiracy theorists.

“Now, to have Republicans attack them and their character and their biographies, to have Republicans essentially trying to tear apart this agency of government — I mean this is what the GQP has been all about, tearing government apart,” Pritzker said at a Springfield news conference the following day.

But on Friday one Republican] lawmaker took his own shots at Pritzker, even as he welcomed the effort to bring the board back up to its full number.

Referring to the bipartisan rejection of Wilson, state Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, issued a statement Friday crediting Pritzker with taking steps to fill the vacancies after “allowing his controversial appointees to fulfill his agenda until even Democrats had enough of his gamesmanship.

“It is my hope that the governor learned from his mistakes and allows these individuals to undergo the proper Senate confirmation process,” Plummer said. “I look forward to vetting and reviewing these appointees to ensure they are best suited for this very important position.”

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