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Opening arguments: GOP rival says Foxx has ‘made us less safe’ — she says O’Brien’s prosecution style was ‘win at any cost’

Kim Foxx, Pat O’Brien and Libertarian candidate Brian Dennehy sparred for over an hour before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, trying to win the newspaper’s endorsement.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, left, Republican nominee Patrick O’Brien, center, and Libertarian candidate Brian Dennehy.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, left, Republican nominee Patrick O’Brien, center, and Libertarian candidate Brian Dennehy.
Sun-Times file photos; Provided

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx sparred Thursday with Republican challenger Pat O’Brien over wrongful convictions and her tenure — four years that the former judge argued has led to “more crime and more fear.”

“There has been a lack of integrity and professionalism in the office in the last four years. The experiment that Kim Foxx has led has failed,” the former Cook County judge said. “It has made us less safe.”

The Democratic incumbent, O’Brien and Libertarian candidate Brian Dennehy sparred for well over an hour before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, trying to win the newspaper’s endorsement.

The jabs came out early, with O’Brien saying in his opening remarks that Foxx’s time in office has infringed upon people’s way of life.

“It’s not allowed people to exercise the kinds of freedoms given by the Constitution, simply because there’s more crime and more fear,” O’Brien said. “I think the gangs have to be addressed.”

He also brought up the case of former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, saying Foxx made “false statements … directed to trying to make the public think that Jussie Smollett was treated like anyone else.”

“Mr. Smollett was treated differently than everybody else, and Ms. Foxx can talk all she wants about anything else, but she can’t answer those questions, because the only answer she can have is that her credibility was destroyed in how she handled that case,” O’Brien said.

Actor Jussie Smollett, left; Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, right.
Actor Jussie Smollett, left; Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, right.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times; Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times.

Foxx’s handling of the Smollett case has drawn criticism but proved to be a blip for Foxx in the March Democratic Party.

Accused of making a false report to police alleging that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack, Smollett was indicted last year on 16 counts of disorderly conduct, but the state’s attorney’s office later abruptly dropped the charges.

Special Prosecutor Dan Webb filed a new six-count indictment against Smollett in February, and in a report released last month, found “substantial abuses of discretion” in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office’s handling of the case.

On Thursday, Foxx went on the offense against O’Brien. The first-term prosecutor said while O’Brien was a prosecutor in charge of the criminal prosecutions bureau, he “oversaw at least 27 cases where people were convicted and those convictions were later exonerated.”

“I agree, trust and transparency are critically important, and I’m to be held to account for what happened in that case, but the elephant in the room is not simply Jussie Smollett,” Foxx said. “It is the history of wrongful convictions — win at any cost — that I believe that we have to address.”

Pat O’Brien, 2020 Illinois Republican nominee for Cook County state’s attorney
Pat O’Brien, 2020 Illinois Republican nominee for Cook County state’s attorney
Provided

The Democratic incumbent also pointed to O’Brien’s “relationship with police,” arguing during his time in the county’s criminal justice system, “he did not provide a check on officers.”

In his campaign to unseat Foxx, O’Brien received the endorsement of the city’s Fraternal Order of Police and a $57,800 donation — the maximum legal donation — from the group.

O’Brien said the donation doesn’t make him “somehow beholden to them.”

“Everybody will be treated the same — if they violate the law, they’re going to be prosecuted,” O’Brien said. “And in terms of donors. Let’s ask Ms. Foxx about Ed Burke, Martin Sandoval, Commonwealth Edison ... They’ve been investigated, and, in some cases, charged by the FBI.”

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) was charged with racketeering and bribery in a 59-page federal indictment. Sandoval, a former state senator, has pleaded guilty to corruption charges. And ComEd has been charged in federal court with bribery.

As for the convictions, O’Brien said he was assigned as a prosecutor to the rape and murder case of Lori Roscetti in the 1980s. The former judge said “there were two court reported confessions taken by an assistant state’s attorney, and they were third party admissions to persons that were in the community, from the offenders” among other evidence.

Any of them could have “raised any issue they wanted to ... with regard to the confessions,” but none did, O’Brien said.

Calvin Ollins, right, is congratulated by Omar Saunders, left, and Larry Ollins, center, as Calvin is released from the Joliet Correctional center in Joliet in 2001.
Calvin Ollins, right, is congratulated by Omar Saunders, left, and Larry Ollins, center, as Calvin is released from the Joliet Correctional center in Joliet in 2001, after DNA tests proved there was no evidence linking the three to the rape and murder of medical student Lori Roscetti in 1986. The city of Chicago agreed to pay $1.5 million in 2003, to settle a civil rights lawsuit brought by Calvin, one of four men cleared by in the case.
M. Spencer Green/AP file

“One of the four actually testified that in the final trial, that they had committed the offense,” O’Brien said. “So, I don’t know how a prosecutor could have seen it coming into the case in any other fashion than to prosecute, but I will agree that the criminal justice system failed those four men. I was part of that, but I certainly at the time … would not have been aware that somehow these were the wrong men.”

Dennehy said he is running because he doesn’t “want to be a person who sits idly by while the world burns.”

“The overall issue is the number of people we are locking up in cages,” the Libertarian said, arguing that prosecutors should not overcrowd the jails with those who don’t belong there. “So, when something happens like the looting, there’s room to put people who are actually harming other people and stealing other people’s things.”