Democratic candidate for Attorney General
Responses to our questions
Please explain how you would hit the ground running. On Day 1, what would your primary focus for the office be? How would you reorganize, if at all, the direction of the attorneys who report to you?
I will take a bold progressive approach to the Attorney General's office with three specific priorities.
First, I will stand up to the big powers--taking on the big corporations, big banks and Donald Trump's policies that hurt and disrupt Illinois. As Attorney General, I will be vocal and fight every illegal action Trump takes.
Second, I will achieve real criminal justice reform. There are four pieces to this: 1) ending mass incarceration, 2) ending the racist drug war, 3) eliminating cash bail, and 4) achieving real police reform.
Third, I will fight corruption in our state and local government. Once in office I will form a public integrity bureau within the Attorney General's office to specifically deal with corruption.
Please explain in detail your legal experience and/or any areas of legal or policy expertise.
I have been an attorney for over 17 years focusing primarily on criminal law but have also handled civil rights cases. I currently am an attorney supervisor at the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender's Office and have run my own legal practice as well for approximately 7 years.
In my role as an assistant public defender (in addition to representing clients) I have worked on various policy issues including eliminating the cash bail program within Cook County, rewriting the Public Defender employee manual, and training and writing policy on a first-of-its-kind program allowing public defenders to represent individuals detained in police stations.
I taught the trial advocacy team at the DePaul College of Law and currently teach at North Park University. I have also lectured on various areas of the law to lawyers at continuing legal education seminars.
Have you ever tried a case? Civil or criminal? If so, how many?
I have tried hundreds of cases and litigated over 30 criminal jury trials. I have handled both state and federal cases, criminal and civil. Most of my career as a lawyer has been in the courtroom litigating thousands of motions in addition to the hundreds of cases I have tried.
How would you prioritize the resources of the office?
My priorities are as follows: First, to stand up to the big powers--taking on the big corporations, big banks and Donald Trump's policies that hurt and disrupt Illinois. Second, I will achieve real criminal justice reform. There are four pieces to this: 1) ending mass incarceration, 2) ending the racist drug war, 3) eliminating cash bail, and 4) achieving real police reform. Third, I will fight corruption in our state and local government.
Should the attorney general's grand jury authority be expanded to intensify the role of the AG in fighting corruption? Or is that a more suitable role for federal prosecutors? Please explain your answer.
The Attorney General's grand jury authority should be expanded to fight corruption. The federal prosecutor should still have a role in fighting corruption but the Attorney General should be investigating and prosecuting corruption. In many instances, the Attorney General should be working with federal prosecutors to combat corruption. As Attorney General, I will form a public integrity bureau whose mission will be to investigate and prosecute corruption.
What do you view as the top three roles of the Illinois attorney general's office?
The top three roles of the Attorney General are:
- To be the attorney for the people.
- Be an adviser to the legislature and;
- Be an advocate for important policies helpful to the people of the state of Illinois.
To which areas of focus would you devote the most resources?
I would devote the most resources to achieving the priorities I set out which are: First, to stand up to the big powers--taking on the big corporations, big banks and Donald Trump. For example, I believe we can make a serious impact on gun violence by looking into the gun manufacturers and their role in flooding our communities with guns. Second, I will dedicate resources to achieve real criminal justice reform. Third, I will fight corruption in our state and local government by forming a public integrity bureau similar to what was created in New York. In addition to these priorities I will focus on protecting our environment and looking at ways we can combat global warming through legal action, protecting the rights of immigrants, combating discrimination and sexual harassment against women and protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community.
What are the greatest challenges facing the next attorney general?
I will face many challenges as Attorney General. Depending on how future events play out, we may have a constitutional crisis if President Trump is impeached or charged criminally. As Attorney General I will protect the rights of all Illinoisans in any continuing or last ditch efforts by Trump to take away our rights. In addition to Trump, we must reform our criminal justice system, combat corruption and work on ways to stop the gun violence. I have a plan to take on these challenges and believe after my first term we will have accomplished the many goals I set out.
Give us some examples of when you displayed independence from your party or staked out an unpopular position.
I am the 33rd Ward Democratic Committeeman having defeated a long-time machine politician-Dick Mell. Running against Dick Mell by itself was an act of independence from the party. While I was running I was approached by Democratic Party members who offered to slate me as a judge if I withdrew from the race. I declined that offer and continued my run for Committeeman.
As Committeeman I showed independence from the party when I was one of the first public supporters of Fritz Kaegi against Joe Berrios for Cook County Assessor. I also spoke out against the Cook County Democratic Party's practice of requiring endorsed judicial candidates to contribute $40,000 to the party (See, https://chicago.suntimes.com/opinion/democratic-party-practice-nothing-but-a-quid-pro-quo/)
What steps have you taken, or would you take, to maintain the independence of the office from the influence of a governor, legislative leaders or members of your political party?
My career has been about being independent and I will continue that independence as Attorney General. Unlike many of my opponents, I am not taking contributions from big corporations (i.e., big tobacco or big utility companies). When you receive contributions from powerful entities, your independence is comprised and that will not happen to me. My stance on corruption and plan to form a public integrity bureau assigned to investigate corruption shows that I will be independent from the influence of the governor, legislative leaders or members of my political party. Finally, when I was before the Cook County Democratic Party I didn't ask for them to endorse me, I asked for it to be an open primary and I voted for an open primary. So, I have shown that I am independent and will be independent as Attorney General.
The Illinois Constitution is vague about the role of the attorney general. How proactive should the attorney general be in injecting himself or herself into issues of education, pensions, state finances, corruption or other issues that don't fall directly under the role of legal adviser?
I have a bold progressive agenda and that will be my role as Attorney General. As Howard Zinn once said, "you can't be neutral on a moving train". Whether the Attorney General is proactive or not proactive, he or she is making certain value judgments. If there is inequality in education and the Attorney General is not proactive about rectifying that, then his or her inaction still has a significant impact. If the legislature pushes forward a pension bill that is clearly unconstitutional and unfair, the Attorney General makes an impact whether he or she is injecting himself or herself into that issue. So, I believe the Attorney General has the ability to be proactive in those issues and I will be proactive.
Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.
I have run 4 marathons.
What distinguishes you from your opponents?
My professional career and my agenda as Attorney General distinguishes myself from my opponents. I have the most courtroom and trial experience in this race. As a Public Defender and in private practice, I have spent my career representing individuals--real people--in criminal and civil rights cases. My opponents are all insiders or prosecutors (or both). As an elected official, I have taken on the machine and won. When people said I couldn't win, I proved them wrong. I am the only candidate who has openly supported progressive candidates for office including Bernie Sanders. I walk the walk: I will not take money from the rich and powerful corporations.
I have proposed unique, progressive solutions to the many long-lasting problems facing our state. I believe that to stop the spread of gun violence in our communities we must go after the gun manufacturers and the NRA who, obviously, have a vested interest in selling more guns. To reform our criminal justice system, we must stop the racist drug war, achieve real police reform, and involve the community. I am the only one who will make sure the community is involved, and I ensure that they will have enforcement power. As Attorney General, I will not only protect the environment but I also will come up with unique solutions to turn the tide on climate change. Fighting to protect the environment is fighting to protect the health, safety and economy of Illinois. Within the Attorney General's office, I will create a public integrity bureau that will investigate corruption and make sure the sexual harassment that is going on in Springfield does not continue. I will stand up for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and immigrants. I will be a true advocate for progressive change.