As the race for Cook County state’s attorney tightens and incumbent Kim Foxx skips out on debates with her opponent — instead ramping up campaign ads on television — a key question for voters is this: Which candidate can find balance between criminal justice reform and public safety?
In our Sept. 25 endorsement of Foxx’s opponent, Pat O’Brien, we emphasized how O’Brien would strive for that balance. “Criminal justice reform can never be a bad thing,” O’Brien told us. He supports deferred prosecutions for those accused of low-level offenses to get them off the pathway to prison. He doesn’t want accused nonviolent offenders to languish in jail because they can’t afford their bond. He would not support aggressive prosecutions of cases that lack strong evidence.
But he says he would tighten up an office culture under Foxx that has allowed too many defendants charged with violent crimes to be released on electronic monitoring or low bonds. That is a concern that has permeated this election, particularly as violent crime in Chicago has soared this year. Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police Superintendent David Brown have been among those questioning what they see as a lax approach toward some defendants whose records are too questionable to be eligible for release.
Just last month, Brown described as “beyond frustrating” a West Side shooting that struck five and killed two. The accused defendant had seven felonies “and yet they’re out on the streets in our neighborhoods on electronic monitoring. What are we doing? I mean it’s beyond frustrating. It makes your blood boil if you’re one of those victims.”
Foxx has blamed judges, in part, for those bond decisions. But judges make those calls based on the guidance and recommendations of prosecutors. O’Brien contends Foxx’s team gives too many defendants the benefit of the doubt at the expense of public safety. And during a health pandemic and widespread unrest and looting following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, when Foxx’s criminal justice reform strategy should have been recalibrated, she forged ahead anyway, costing the public’s trust.
This is, in part, why we recommend voters elect O’Brien, an experienced former prosecutor, judge and criminal defense attorney who would view the criminal justice system, fairly, from that wide prism. To properly deliver justice and fairness to defendants and to crime victims, there should be a natural tension between prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges.
In addition, an outside prosecutor in the Jussie Smollett hate crime case found evidence of severe mishandling and misleading statements from Foxx and her office. We still don’t have all the answers in that case, which, despite Foxx’s mission to offer justice to the voiceless, ended up giving a big break to a celebrity with clout that an average defendant would not have received. We still don’t fully understand what led Foxx’s office to reach a 16-count indictment against Smollett, only to mysteriously drop the charges months later.
The public has a right to know more. Foxx has not been open or transparent about what unfolded. Voters have a solid, experienced choice in O’Brien. They should send him to the state’s attorney’s office.
You can find a link to our digital bedsheet ballot, which conveniently lists all of the candidates the Tribune Editorial Board is endorsing, here: chicagotribune.com/candidates.
Editorials reflect the opinion of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board.
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