Illinois Justice Project director chosen for Cook County public defender — drawing no objections

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, whose prosecutors will be squaring off against Sharone Mitchell Jr. and the attorneys he supervises if he is confirmed, congratulated Mitchell, calling him her “colleague in criminal justice reform.”

SHARE Illinois Justice Project director chosen for Cook County public defender — drawing no objections
Sharone Mitchell Jr., director of the Illinois Justice Project, has been chosen to be the next Cook County public defender.

Sharone Mitchell Jr., director of the Illinois Justice Project, has been chosen to be the next Cook County public defender.

Provided

The director of the Illinois Justice Project is Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s pick to take over the public defender’s office, drawing praise Wednesday from both the county’s chief executive and the prosecutor he and the attorneys in the office will face in court.

Sharone Mitchell Jr. has worked at the Illinois Justice Project since 2016 and was previously a trial attorney with the public defender’s office, according to the justice project’s website.

The County Board has scheduled a special meeting Friday morning to vote on the appointment.

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, whose prosecutors will be squaring off against Mitchell and the attorneys he supervises if he is confirmed, congratulated Mitchell, calling him her “colleague in criminal justice reform.”

In a statement, Preckwinkle thanked outgoing Public Defender Amy Campanelli and the selection team that vetted the candidates.

Preckwinkle called Mitchell a “nationally recognized thought leader and policy advocate who has demonstrated the ability to lead regional reform efforts working with myriad diverse stakeholders including the private bar, legislators, practitioners as well as community organizations both large and small.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in 2019.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in 2019.

Colin Boyle/Sun-Times file

Mitchell was one of two finalists for the position. The other contender, Emmanuel Andre, is an attorney at the North Side Transformative Law Center, whose legal services include community defense, victim rights and Illinois Department of Children and Family Services cases, reentry planning and expungement, according to the center’s website.

In a written statement, Mitchell said “it is the honor of a lifetime” to be recommended for the position and thanked the selection committee for its “hard work” and Preckwinkle “for her faith in me.”

“My vision for the office amplifies the office’s core mission; it is to ensure that this office provides the highest quality of representation for the clients assigned to our care and becomes an engine for progressive systems change,” Mitchell said.

“I look forward to appearing before the County Board and, if I am confirmed, work with the Commissioners to help deliver to the people of Cook County the legal representation they deserve and answer the call of our communities that have demanded change.”

Foxx issued a written statement shortly after news of the selection broke, saying she was “thrilled to congratulate” Mitchell, but also praising his predecessor, who wanted to stay in the job, but ultimately did not make the cut.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx during a campaign stop in Pilsen last year.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx during a campaign stop in Pilsen last year.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

“While our roles may appear adversarial by design, we share a commitment to fight for justice and fair outcomes,” Foxx wrote of Mitchell. “Amy Campanelli is a fierce advocate for her clients and an excellent strategic thinker who I have enjoyed working with over the past four years. I wish her the best of luck in her next endeavor.”

The Chicago Sun-Times learned Friday that incumbent Campanelli was not among the list of finalists. On Tuesday, Preckwinkle shed no light on why Campanelli wasn’t chosen to stay on in the position she’s held since 2015.

“I’m grateful to Public Defender Campanelli for her good work over the last six years, her work on police station representation, on setting up an immigration unit I would particularly single out,” Preckwinkle said on Tuesday.

Campanelli’s current term expires at the end of the month. The public defender said in December she would seek a second, six-year term to “continue to advocate that the criminal justice system be just for all.”

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse last year.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse last year.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Preckwinkle opened up the option of picking a new public defender that month, forming a selection committee to review resumes, interview candidates and recommend three candidates to Preckwinkle for a final decision.

In its own statement, the selection committee said members relied on public surveys — including one that went to the current staff of the Legal Office of the Cook County Public Defender — community outreach, applicant interviews, resumes and writing samples to pick a batch of candidates.

They heard from 21 candidates in the first round of interviews and whittled that group down to six for a second round before selecting Mitchell and Andre as their final two to recommend to Preckwinkle.

The board president downplayed Campanelli’s ouster on Tuesday, telling the Sun-Times the same process of applications and interviews was followed that resulted in Campanelli’s appointment six years ago.

“That’s sort of a transparent, good government thing to do, I would argue,” Preckwinkle said Tuesday. “And we did the same thing this time, and as I said, two candidates were recommended as a result of that process, I think we interviewed almost two dozen people and my chief of staff and I will make a decision which we’ll share later in the week.”

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