The Hollowing of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office
Everything is going according to plan for Kim Foxx
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx can be described many ways, but she can never be characterized as dull.
On Saturday, June 4, a 911 phone call eliminated the joy from the evening and brought officers to Foxx’s baronial home in south suburban Flossmoor. A domestic dispute, the early picture is not entirely flattering for Foxx: According to Flossmoor police, a marital row took place in which the Cook County prosecutor is alleged to have cuffed her husband, Kelley.
Marriage in all its divine tedium, by the time Flossmoor's police pieced together the sequence of events which came to an end with the couple’s bickering, officers ultimately deduced Ms. Foxx’s behavior did not resemble a "mad wife in the attic" and left without filing charges or taking Ms. Foxx into custody.
Though Foxx’s name and the incident should have rampaged across the headlines of the city’s daily newspapers, Foxx’s reliable cheering section at the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times thought otherwise. Always bending over too far to forgive Foxx’s misdeeds, instead of readers finding Foxx submerged under a tide of mortifying headlines, both the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times kept the drama which had played out in the Foxx household out of its pages for several days.
With Chicago’s obliging media originally burying the story, readers were first able to learn of the facts of the incident in Flossmoor from CWB, which had diligently filed a FOIA request to obtain the Flossmoor police report. Once released for public consumption, the police account of officers’ visit to the Foxx residence paints an image of a Cook County prosecutor enraged with her husband’s social media postings. Though it is not clear precisely what Mr. Foxx broadcast to every corner of the Web, rumors quietly swirled throughout Chicago Ms. Foxx had howled incensed disapproval over her husband’s criticism of her aim and intent as Cook County prosecutor on Facebook.
Her hysterical overreaction revealed to the world, Foxx’s acute public embarrassment worsened when CBS 2 obtained the 911 call which laid bare her fury: Foxx is unmistakably heard angrily uttering “Get out” to her husband. In the attempt at damage control days later, the couple issued a joint statement which read: "This is a personal family matter, and we ask that you provide our family with respect and privacy."
Though hardly a seismic event, Foxx was still unable to elevate herself above the mess and avoid an office fallout. Late in the evening of June 9, the Chief of the Investigations Bureau at the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, James Roache, unexpectedly tendered his resignation. In an e-mail to colleagues, Roache declined to state specifically the reasons for his departure. Nonetheless, Roache did conclude his missive by declaring: "I am resigning with my integrity, morals, and ethics intact." Though a maddeningly vague message, it is fair to conclude Mr. Roache was compelled by conscience to step down.
To explain why Roache’s departure is in any way relevant, one must understand his decision to quit is the latest in a stampede of resignations or dismissals from the prosecutor’s office since Foxx first took the oath of office in late 2016.
Although Roache is the latest high-profile departure from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO), the first noteworthy departure came in 2018 when Eric Sussman, the then-First Assistant State's Attorney, fled the office. An experienced former U.S. attorney, Sussman was commissioned with overseeing several controversial exoneration cases by Foxx. Despite carrying out Foxx’s exoneration fancies, Sussman left in May 2018 under circumstances never satisfactorily explained.
Following Sussman’s exit, an endless string of experienced ASAs departed. In April 2019, Chief Ethics Officer April Perry and Mark Rotert, who led the Conviction Integrity Unit, announced they would also leave. Ms. Perry’s resignation was particularly unpleasant for Foxx. In a nasty public feud, Perry contradicted Foxx’s greatest invention, the contrived “recusal” from the prosecution of B-list actor, Jussie Smollett. A dishonest concoction Foxx whipped up to avert criticism as the Smollett fiasco unraveled, Perry rebutted Foxx’s absurd claim her recusal was fulfilled on Perry’s recommendation as ethics adviser.
Refusing to be scapegoated for Foxx’s bumbling in the Smollett case, Perry recalled events quite differently, declaring she had urged First Assistant Joseph Magats to request approval from the court for a Special State’s Attorney to handle the matter. After preparing a motion and order to this effect, Perry later learned from Magats that Foxx had rejected the ethics guidance. Perry now works as general counsel at a Chicago-area technology firm; Rotert is in private practice.
Perry and Magats were far from the only casualties of the Smollett flub. According to ASAs who continue to work in the State’s Attorney’s Office, several insist both Peter “Guy” Lisuzzo and Nick Trutenko were marked and punished by Foxx for their role in the prosecution of Smollett. Following the conclusion of the case, Lisuzzo was defenestrated and banished from 26th and California and Trutenko was ensnared in the third trial of accused police killer, Jackie Wilson. Along with their years of experience prosecuting criminals, Lisuzzo now works for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, while Trutenko was dismissed.
Though Trutenko and Lisuzzo were little known figures before the Smollett and Wilson cases, amid their departures from Fox's office, other skilled prosecutors have also fled. Rob Holland, Andrew Horvat, and Jennifer Coleman have either resigned or been ousted. While all three were well regarded by their peers, the two most significant losses under Foxx have been Alan Spellberg and Natosha Toller. Resignations which rocked the office, between Spellberg and Toller existed close to half a century of experience prosecuting crime. An accomplished prosecutor, in his resignation letter to Foxx, Spellberg lavished praise on colleagues and specifically mentioned how his mentors in the office taught him the weight of doing the "right thing."
The most recent in a mass exodus from CCSAO, James Roache’s resignation is believed to be connected to two cases, both of which have attracted considerable attention. A man known around the office to have tremendous respect for the truth and conducting conscientious investigations, as head of the CCSAO Investigations Bureau, the responsibility to lead an inquiry into allegations of police misconduct in the matter of Officer Louis Garcia fell within Roache’s purview.
Accused of placing a suspect in a chokehold, Garcia was recommended for dismissal by Superintendent David Brown. After meticulously examining the incident, Roache handed his conclusions over to Lynn McCarthy, head of the CCSAO Public Integrity Unit. Upon review of Roache’s findings, McCarthy is said to have rejected criminal charges against Garcia, twice. Though the matter should have been dropped, ASAs in the State’s Attorney’s office say Garcia was charged over McCarthy’s objections by either Foxx, Risa Lanier, or both. Despite being portrayed in Chicago media as a sadistic cop determined to administer a drubbing on a man in handcuffs, Garcia was exonerated earlier this year. To the further embarrassment of Foxx, two other Chicago police supervisors ensnared in the Garcia incident, Lieutenant Greg Daly and Sergeant Kevin Rake, are likely to be cleared in the matter.
In a second incident which is said to have to have offended Roache’s guiding legal principles, a former police officer patrolling North Avenue Beach was indicted for multiple felonies after an interaction with a female resident. The trouble began after midnight on the morning of August 28, 2021, when former officer Bruce Dyker informed a young woman walking her dog to leave the park. Though police body-worn camera shows Dyker issuing lawful commands to exit the beach, the woman, Nikkita Brown, repeatedly defied valid police orders and challenged Dyker. While body-worn camera captures Brown slowly moving and Dyker aiming to escort her from the park, Brown is shown coming to a complete halt. Dyker then attempted to take the woman into custody and a physical struggle ensued. Ms. Brown is seen on police body-worn camera resisting arrest. When reviewed by ASAs, what should have resulted in a citation issued to Brown for, at minimum, trespassing, resulted in Dyker facing charges for aggravated battery and official misconduct.
Though ASAs found no reason to proceed with a case against Dyker, sources inside CCSAO maintain the case against Dyker was advanced and the officer is facing criminal charges only through the intervention of Lanier and likely Kim Foxx.
However, ASAs assert Roache reached a tipping point and bowed out of CCSAO when Flossmoor police officially documented a member of Kim Foxx’s executive protection unit, Richard Peck, entering the Flossmoor Police Department with an offer of cooperation with their investigation of the domestic call to Foxx’s home. A security detail under the direct authority of Roache’s Investigations Bureau, ASAs say Peck’s visit was more than unusual or suspicious, but smacks of obstruction or interference with an official police investigation.
To capture how far out of bounds Peck’s calling on Flossmoor police is, ASAs state official policy, barring an emergency, demands a formal investigative request be submitted by an ASA or supervisor to instruct members of Foxx’s protective unit to be redirected from their duties. ASAs firmly doubt any such order came from Roache; they are also convinced if any order was issued it came from above Roache’s station. Assistant State’s Attorneys also claim Foxx’s protection detail is handpicked — servitors who are loyal to the Foxx brand — and thus willing to step outside official boundaries independently or at the request of a meddling superior. Snakebit by his experiences, Roache handed in his resignation, and left the CCSAO with his integrity, morals, and ethics intact.
The latest name added to a long list of departures from the CCSAO since Foxx’s arrival, Roache’s abrupt resignation serves as a window into the conditions inside the CCSAO. It is an ugly sight. The loss of Roache, ASAs say, is an example of Kim Foxx’s scheme to raze the institution she leads and rebuild it under a social justice ethos. According to the reading of veteran ASAs, many of whom preceded Foxx, Foxx’s multi-pronged plan to recondition the State’s Attorney’s Office went far beyond overthrowing the traditional set of customs applied to prosecute crime with criminal justice reform. ASAs state Foxx has long sought to perform internal housecleaning by ridding the CCSAO of “non-believers,” those who do not embrace her social justice tenets. Similarly, ASAs posit Foxx intends to shrink the size of the office by reclassifications to law and dramatically expanding diversion programs. This, ASAs emphasize, is a maneuver which would aid Foxx in reaching her undeclared goal of further decriminalizing offenses to the law and render ASAs virtually meaningless.
Outside of supervisors and other uppermost CCSAO officials — talented prosecutors with decades of overseeing criminal cases — forced out or running for the exit, ASAs contend there is an alarming number of accomplished, junior prosecutors leaving the office for private practice. An urgent problem afflicting the office, an aggravating circumstance is the CCSAO struggling to keep pace with departures. According to ASAs, during the tenure of former State’s Attorney Dick Devine, over 950 assistant state's attorneys were employed. During Anita Alvarez’s two terms, the number of ASAs dropped a shade, but remained above 900. However, in the six-year period under Kim Foxx, the number of ASAs serving Cook County has plummeted. ASAs estimate conservatively the number of assistants presently working in the State’s Attorney’s Office is below 600.
A staggering rate of attrition, the result is undermanned courtrooms with two ASAs, and increasingly one ASA occupying courtrooms. ASAs who continue to work in the office say ASAs are not the only employees peeling out of Foxx’s office. Barring ASAs leaving in droves, the office is facing a startling shortage of law clerks and other support staff. Worse, ASAs also tell of an office failing to attract younger talent, new hires with inferior legal minds, and others struggling to pass the Bar exam.
For ASAs with over a decade of experience, many reveal an environment of widespread gloom pervading CCSAO. Among the reasons: Kim Foxx’s imperious reign, and skepticism of her motives and competence. Apart from Foxx’s incompetence and questionable aims, ASAs explain the single greatest reason for employees’ repugnance with Foxx is found with her complete ideological overhaul of the State’s Attorney’s Office.
Though many ASAs were uneasy with Foxx’s election, most were willing to provide her with an opportunity to deliver on her promised reform measures before rendering any judgment. Nevertheless, the initial good-faith patience among ASAs abruptly evaporated following Foxx raising the threshold for charging shoplifters with a felony crime and her purblind zeal for returning brutish killers to the streets. Only after businesses experienced an unconstrained rise in retail theft and prosecutors witnessed years of grueling work undone with the release of convicted killers did ASAs realize Foxx’s promised “passive and gentle” reform would be far more drastic than ASAs previously thought.
Christened an old system by Foxx, instead of incremental policy reform, Foxx had envisaged a fast and furious, comprehensive overhaul of the entire Cook County justice system rebuilt under the label of social justice. To Kim Foxx, the CCSAO was an institution riddled with flaws and required a clearing out of those who had abused power, enjoyed privilege, and misused connections. In Foxx’s worldview, the CCSAO had become an unresponsive institution which served the few and operated with contempt toward the many, primarily minorities.
Though a significant adjustment in policy was Foxx’s principal goal after taking office, a change to the culture of CCSAO was of fundamental importance. As Foxx assiduously labored to apply her cherished criminal justice reform measures, among her first hire was Jennifer Ballard as Chief Diversity Officer. The godmother of a ideological renaissance inside Foxx's fiefdom, Ballard’s arrival meant "diversity" was the predominant thrust behind a range of policies, training, rules, regulations, and acceptance and hiring practices in the State's Attorney's office.
Fighting for the Foxx worldview, Ballard’s entrance meant diversity was prioritized over talent and to ensure all CCSAO employees “walked the line,” mandatory diversity training was introduced. Though diversity training was retailed by Foxx’s executive staff to appear nonthreatening, ASAs contend the "all-inclusive" instruction was met with withering scorn, mockery, and ultimately dismissed as an utterly profitless endeavor.
In a second hire, Katie Hill was designated Director of Policy, Research and Development. A woman whose name evokes shudders among some ASAs remaining in Foxx’s office, under Hill’s supervision, "restorative justice" was the recipe for addressing crime. A feverish proponent of de-carceration, ASAs state Hill worked relentlessly on an array of alternatives to imprisonment and doggedly worked to broadly expand diversion programs and end cash bail.
Wolves invited into the citadel by Kim Foxx, according to ASAs, once Foxx and her executive staff of ideological fanatics cultivated reform policies, the veil dropped and criminal justice reform — what was once presumed to be a relent on some harsher statutes — was revealed to ASAs as an unyielding commitment to obstruct the prosecution of crime. A hopelessly tainted brand of justice, Foxx's reform has ushered in an era in which crime has increased considerably, criminals are mollycoddled, and the victims of crimes are overlooked. Foxx, of course, remains unconcerned with the calamitous consequences of her policies or her overarching goals for the CCSAO. To the shameless Foxx, victims of crime and the law-abiding must simply learn to bear the end result of her actions.
The vexing problem with Foxx’s great awakening for the CCSAO is her comprehensive ideological refitting of the CCSAO is incompatible with the existing social compact, it offends the consciences of ASAs, and is directly contrary to the oath ASAs swore to prosecute crime. After six years under Foxx, a mass disillusionment has overcome the office. This discontent has led to ASAs who were once dedicated to prosecuting crimes leaving the office rather than compromising their moral obligation to victims of crime. Others who crossed Foxx, displeased her in some way or decline to genuflect to the foolhardiness of Foxx’s social justice value system suffer the humiliation of demotion or are drummed out of the office. While some do go quietly, others, some of whom continue to work in Foxx’s office, feel it worthwhile to take their dissatisfaction to media to expose the toxic and chaotic work environment inside Foxx’s office. For those ASAs who are stuck working for Foxx, most have hardened into a sullen resignation at being trapped in a dysfunctional office but fulfill their duties through gritted teeth.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is a flaming wreckage
Kim Foxx has ravaged the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. An office standing forlorn, what was once an instrument of justice has been transformed into a useless advocacy shop for violent criminals.
Part of Kim Foxx’s defensive strategy calibrated to address crime, for professional prosecutors who defy, disagree or don’t conform to Foxx’s worldview, they suffer loss of career or leave the State’s Attorney’s Office in frustration. Those who remain are being forced to choose between their oath to serve victims of crime by meting out the kind of impartial, unqualified justice we seek in American courtrooms or being coerced into adopting Foxx's skewed social justice creed. This is a question no ASA should ever be forced to ask themselves or answer.
All of this spells trouble for the future of the prosecution of crime in Cook County and it will for some time. When the dust and debris have been cleared, and Foxx is gone from office, it will require years and a special successor with the moral competence, courage, and dispassionate determination Foxx lacks to undo all the damage she has done to Cook County’s justice system.