State's attorney candidate Donna More said incumbent Kim Foxx makes politically, not legally, calculated decisions in office and attacked amount of cash flooding the Democratic primary at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics on Monday, arguing that supporting her means supporting an independent, clean candidate.
"Shockingly, I am the only candidate in the Democratic primary that has been in the felony trial division and actually tried violent felony cases," said More, a former felony prosecutor in the state's attorney office after attending the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington. She later tried white collar and public corruption cases at the U.S. attorney's office before a return to state government, followed by private law firm employment, pro bono work and adjunct teaching at Chicagoland law schools.
More also ran in the 2016 Democratic primary, taking 11.86% of the vote in the contest against incumbent Anita Alvarez that Foxx won with 62.35% of the vote, running high on public disgust with the prosecution of Chicago Police Department officer Jason Van Dyke, who murdered Laquan McDonald.
"I thought we had gone, under Alvarez, way too far, to convictions at any cost," she said. "Now I think we've gone way too far the other direction under Ms. Foxx."
More said a cardinal issue in the primary is money in politics, observing that Hungarian-American financier George Soros and local unions are funding Foxx while investor William E. Conway Jr. is supporting his son, former Navy officer Bill Conway, with millions of dollars for his campaign — all to control the power of indictment in Cook County.
"Is our political system boiling down to having to sell your soul to, in Cook County, a corrupt political machine, because they will be the ones to write you the checks and get you the money, or do you have to know or be related to a billionaire to run for office?" she asked. "To me, that's a pretty sad commentary of where we are."
Everyone wants reform, she said, but she does not see that happening "if the money against you is so overwhelming that you have to basically sell your position to someone who's willing to pay for it." And she promised not to use the office as a political stepping stone for another elected position.
No one expected "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett, accused of faking a hate crime against him last year, to go to prison, More said, but everyone takes issue with Foxx's decision to dismiss charges against him — made in private and in consultation with politically connected people.
Conway, she said, is only relevant because of his father's money. The other challenger, former Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), "runs for everything" and will surely run for something else after this primary, she said.
Police-wise, More acknowledged the movement to eliminate cash bail as an equity measure and said poverty — for instance, a petty theft suspect not being able to post $100 of a $1,000 bond — should not be criminalized. But she said that care must be taken to not allow vulnerable communities to suffer from allowing dangerous individuals out of custody. Some defendants are flight risks unless thy have a lot of money on the line, she said. State efforts to ban cash bond, a legislative priority of local Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th), should not preclude trial officials from taking into account defendants' violent histories or flight risks.
"It's not a one-size-fits-all question. People want to make a blanket statement; anytime you make a blanket statement, you're going to have 32 cases that aren't going to fit, because the criminal justice system doesn't fit," she said. "It's about individual cases. You could have come in and stolen this and have a murder conviction, an armed robbery conviction and three open armed robberies. You can come in and have nothing in your record."
Those cases each have to be treated differently, she said, with prosecutors and judges operating with their own discretion.
Foxx's 2016 decision not to charge shoplifters with felony theft unless they stole goods worth more than $1,000 or have 10 prior felony convictions gives criminals carte blanche to commit crimes, More said: "People are walking into stores, whether it be in Hyde Park, on Michigan Avenue, on State Street. They're stealing $995 worth of stuff. They're waving to the security camera, because they know they're not going to be prosecuted."
"Everybody talks about resources to deal with retail theft; none of my opponents have been in a courtroom," More said. In most such trials, the defendants plead out after an unfussy two-person trial, she said, doubting Foxx's justification on the grounds of resources. State law makes thefts of goods over $300 a felony; More suggested the legislature change it. But prosecutorial discretion should be exercised through charging decisions, including admissions of guilt and mutually beneficial outcomes that do not involve prison time, like shoplifters re-stocking shelves.
More said that justice delayed is justice denied, saying superfluous trial delays on the state's behalf are indefensible, especially as taxpayers pay to incarcerate people in jail or prison before trials.
"I want someone either in the prison or out of county jail," she said. "The state has a responsibility to make sure its cases are prepared in a timely manner, because it doesn't help me (if) my witnesses disappear, my evidence goes stale or gets lost."
More went onto say that the issue that does not come up enough on the campaign trail is the role of victims to the state's attorney's work.
"In the olden days, it was primarily women. Now it's across the board, and they don't get believed a lot of times, or because of the emotional component of it, it's very difficult for those victims and witnesses to those crimes to come forward," she said, additionally citing post-traumatic stress-suffering veterans who go onto commit crimes, supporting special veterans' courts with diversion programs and sensitivity trainings for police. "These are our vulnerable communities, and they oftentimes don't have a voice, and that's what I think gets overlooked a lot in the justice system."
"You hear about big cases," she continued, "whether it's Jussie allegedly lying about a hate crime or a terrible murder. You hear about those, but it's the thousands of cases that are going through the system every day for victims who don't have voices, and that's really what my job is. My job is to be their voice."