Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx on Tuesday admitted that her office “dropped the ball on the level of transparency” in her handling of the Jussie Smollett case — but argued she has made the prosecutor’s office “a model for the nation.”
“When I ran for this office in 2016 I ran on a platform that would be fundamentally different than how this office was run,” Foxx said. “That’s what I’ve done, the efforts that we’ve led on criminal justice reform are fundamental, I believe, to public safety.”
But Foxx’s Democratic primary opponents scoffed.
Former 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti said the fallout from the case “shook the foundations of people who believed in the criminal justice system.”
Foxx, Fioretti and former prosecutors Donna More and Bill Conway appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board to talk about that case and their plans for the office if elected — or re-elected — in November.
“I have taken the knocks and own that we’ve not been perfect,” Foxx said. “But I do know that we have a much better state’s attorney’s office and justice system here in Cook County, that has gone from one of ridicule to one that is a model for the nation, and for that I’m very proud.”
When asked about her handling of the Smollett case, Foxx talked about the lack of transparency but said she couldn’t discuss the matter in depth while special prosecutor Dan Webb conducts his “review” of the matter.
“This isn’t a review that’s being done,” More said. “This is an investigation that’s being done by a special prosecutor that could have severe consequences for Ms. Foxx. If you pride yourself on transparency, you should have gotten up in front of the public and said, ‘Here’s why I dropped the charges.’”
The former “Empire” actor was indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct in March for allegedly lying about being attacked in a hate crime. But a few days later, the state’s attorney’s office abruptly dropped the charges, sparking outrage and confusion.
Conway pointed out that his client Candace Clark — also charged with disorderly conduct — wasn’t treated the same way that Smollett was. Before Clark pleaded out, Cook County Judge Marc Martin noted at a hearing that Clark’s case was “a lot less egregious than Mr. Smollett’s case.”
Like Smollett, Clark was accused of filing a false police report in 2018. Her case involved allegations of check forgery.
“I have a problem with it. Why is she being treated differently?” Martin said at the time.
Foxx on Tuesday said Conway exploited the Hoffman Estates’ woman’s case “for his own political gain.”
The Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus echoed Foxx’s sentiments Tuesday, releasing a statement, saying they weren’t “fooled” by Conway’s recent televised ad featuring Clark.
“He is an opportunistic candidate who took on the Candace Clark case simply for personal gain,” the statement said “Instead of exploiting people of color, Conway should focus on his plans to deliver equitable justice. That is if he has any. It’s unclear up to this point since he’s spent all of his father’s money on Jussie Smollett ads. In doing so, Conway has revealed that he lacks the forethought to lead this office.”
Clark issued a statement through Conway’s campaign, calling Conway her “biggest advocate” and “Foxx is continuing to try to silence me and deny my right to speak out about how she treated Jussie Smollett differently than me and everyone else who enters a deferred prosecution program.”
Conway was also dinged for taking money from his billionaire father William Conway, a co-founder of the Carlyle Group.
More called the Carlyle Group the “master of pay-to-play.”
But Conway said he hasn’t been “shy about the fact that my family is going to put significant resources in [my campaign].”
On public safety and criminal justice reforms, the candidates talked about retail theft, the office’s relationship with the police department and ending cash bail.
Foxx said “despite the theatrics that went on around [the Smollett] case,” the Chicago police and her office “continued to work together to build strong cases.”
But More said officers are frustrated that they “can’t get charges” out of Foxx’s office.
More said not charging retail cases has led to an increase in armed robberies by organized gangs and said criminals are using “10-year-olds as shields.”
“That’s what happens when you announce that you’re not going to prosecute whole categories of crime,” More said.
Foxx said almost half of the retail theft cases are dismissed because business owners wouldn’t show up to court.
When Foxx took office in 2016, she said more resources were going to retail theft than to gun crimes and public safety. So she said her office is more discerning about which cases to bring forward.
“We are looking at the facts and the evidence, and we are doing things like reform, on bail, on poverty, so that people who need to trust the system ... [and] feel comfortable coming forward because they believe the system is fair,” Foxx said.
More and Fioretti also said a person’s prior criminal history should also be considered in bail determinations, while Foxx and Conway said the cash bail system doesn’t work.
“I do want to make sure that when we start looking at how we’re going to end cash bail that that some of the charges ... that are discretionary no bail, like criminal sexual assault, and an armed habitual criminal, for example, will fall into that category that those type of people should be held,” Conway said. “That’s just something we have to make sure that we get right so that we’re keeping dangerous folks … in, but people who aren’t a danger to the community are not kept in jail.”