Republican 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?
On Day 1, my strategic objectives would be ensuring resource and statutory mission alignment, creating a culture of nonpartisanship, enhancing the Office's efforts to combat public corruption, leading policy innovation, and strengthening the Office's relationships with State's Attorneys.
The Attorney General's Office has numerous statutory responsibilities, including:
- enforcing consumer protection, environmental, and anti-discrimination laws;
- representing the People of Illinois in legal cases in which the State or its citizens have specific interests;
- assisting State's Attorneys with the execution of their duties;
- protecting the public's interests in the provision of electric, natural gas, water, cable, video and telecommunication services;
- providing advice regarding the interpretation and implementation of the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act;
- administering provisions of the Charitable Trust Act and the Violent Crime Victims Assistance Act; and
- representing State officers in actions involving the performance of their official duties.
Accordingly, during the transition period, I would meet with the leaders of the Divisions/Bureaus/Units within the Attorney General's Office that are tasked with fulfilling these statutory responsibilities and assess caseload, resource and personnel allocation, and key challenges that are specific to the respective Divisions. Upon being sworn in, to the extent necessary and feasible, I would realign existing resources and personnel to ensure that the Office's statutory obligations were being fulfilled as effectively and efficiently as possible. Furthermore, I would assess how the public corruption case resources were being allocated and managed within the Criminal Enforcement Division and determine what additional investigative and jurisdictional tools are needed to better combat public corruption.
I would also work with the Policy Division on a set of recommendations relating to the following issues: best practices for counties to use when addressing the opioid epidemic, both from a law enforcement and a legal remedies perspective; workers' compensation reform; criminal justice reform; strategies for addressing sexual harassment within State government and the workforce at large; and strategies for protecting students from cyberbullying.
Additionally, I would begin scheduling meetings with groups of State's Attorneys to strengthen the Office's relationships with State's Attorneys throughout Illinois, as various State's Attorneys have advised me that their respective Offices do not have the type of collaborative relationships with the Attorney General's Office necessary to fully effectuate both Offices' mandates.
Finally, I would begin working to foster a culture of nonpartisanship throughout the Office by setting forth rubrics for decision-making that are based on the rule of law, a balancing of the interests of all Illinoisans (regardless of background or political affiliation), and an independence from other branches of government, both at the State and Federal level.
Please explain in detail your legal experience and/or any areas of legal or policy expertise.
I graduated from Harvard Law School in 2007, where I won a Boykin C. Wright Memorial Award for appellate advocacy in Harvard's Ames Moot Court Competition. Following graduation, I worked in Chicago as an attorney in the litigation groups of Sidley Austin LLP and Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella, P.C., representing businesses in complex commercial litigation matters, including civil RICO, class action, fraud, and breach of contract disputes. I also advised religious institutions in matters involving constitutional protections. Additionally, I participated in Sidley Austin's Capital Litigation Project, helping to represent an inmate on Alabama's death row in post-conviction proceedings.
In 2013, I returned to my hometown of Urbana, Illinois, and joined the litigation group of Meyer Capel, P.C., where I handle complex commercial matters and disputes involving trusts and estates. In 2017, I was selected to the Emerging Lawyers list and was recognized in the categories of commercial litigation and civil rights/constitutional law.
In 2015, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed me to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Equality, which is charged with "promoting equality and fairness in all aspects of the administration of justice in Illinois Courts." In 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed me to serve as a Commissioner on the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, which promotes professionalism and civility among lawyers and judges, seeks to eliminate bias within the legal system, and works to ensure that Illinois' legal system provides "equitable, efficient and effective service to the citizens of Illinois."
I have been active in legal education efforts, teaching students about the U.S. legal system as part of the Lawyers in the Classroom program, coordinated by Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago, and coaching a team of high school students in the City-Wide Mock Trial Competition, sponsored by the Chicago Coalition for Law-Related Education. I also was part of the teaching faculty for Harvard Law School's 2017 Trial Advocacy Workshop and will return as part of its teaching faculty for the 2018 Trial Advocacy Workshop.
Additionally, for the past eleven years, I have served on the national board of directors of Prison Fellowship, which advocates for bipartisan criminal justice reform measures, leads outreach efforts to children with incarcerated parents, and provides vocational and educational opportunities for inmates to use to rebuild their lives upon being released.
Finally, since 2002, I have been a national advocate for measures to protect students from harassment in schools, speaking to more than 100,000 students about the consequences of bullying and discussing peer-to-peer harassment on numerous television shows, including Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN Headline News, and PBS's Emmy award-winning teen series In The Mix. I also have delivered presentations to school administrators, legislators, teachers and parents regarding the best practices for protecting students from bullying. In recognition of my advocacy, I was named one of Fight Crime, Invest in Kids' "Champions for Children" and received a leadership award from the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Have you ever tried a case? Civil or criminal? If so, how many?
My practice primarily has focused on complex commercial litigation where, given the size, nature and objectives of such cases, the goal is to successfully resolve them prior to trial and help the client avoid the expense and unpredictability associated with trial. As such, I have been able to achieve resolutions of the cases I have managed prior to trial, whether it was through obtaining judgments on the pleadings, negotiating settlement agreements, or representing clients in mediations.
How would you prioritize the resources of the office?
As described above, the Illinois Attorney General Act and various other Illinois statutes delineate broad responsibilities the office must fulfill. Accordingly, I would prioritize allocating sufficient resources to the Divisions/Bureaus/Units within the Attorney General's Office that are responsible for effectuating these statutory duties (i.e., the Government Representation Division, Public Interest Division, Consumer Protection Division, Charitable Trust Bureau, Consumer Utilities Unit, Office of Public Access Counselor, Division for the Enforcement of Civil and Equal Rights, Environmental Division, Crime Victim Services Division and Criminal Enforcement Division).
Additionally, to the extent possible, I would attempt to allocate additional resources to: (i) the Criminal Enforcement Division for the purposes of combating public corruption and coordinating statewide efforts to address the opioid epidemic; (ii) the victims assistance units for the purpose of augmenting efforts to assist victims of peer-to-peer harassment and workplace sexual harassment; and (iii) the Office of Public Access Counselor to enhance its ability to secure compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act.
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 Illinois Attorney General's authority to convene a grand jury and power to issue subpoenas should be expanded to better enable the Office to combat corruption. While federal prosecutors and State's Attorneys also have an important role to play in fighting corruption, Illinoisans expect their State's chief legal officer — who has unique Statewide visibility in the arenas of governmental transparency and consumer protection — to use that bully pulpit to denounce public corruption and champion governmental accountability. Limiting the Office's tools to actually fight corruption would limit the efficacy of the Attorney General's bully pulpit.
What do you view as the top three roles of the Illinois attorney general's office?
The top three roles are: (i) legal officer - ensuring that the Office's statutory responsibilities are effectively and efficiently fulfilled; (ii) legal enforcer - ensuring that Illinois' laws are fairly and uniformly enforced; and (iii) legal advocate - ensuring that Illinoisan's legal interests are vigorously protected and advanced.
To which areas of focus would you devote the most resources?
I would devote the greatest percentage of the budget to the Divisions responsible for ensuring that the Office's statutory responsibilities were being effectively fulfilled (i.e., the Government Representation Division, Public Interest Division, Consumer Protection Division, Charitable Trust Bureau, Consumer Utilities Unit, Office of Public Access Counselor, Division for the Enforcement of Civil and Equal Rights, Environmental Division, Crime Victim Services Division and Criminal Enforcement Division).
I would attempt to allocate additional resources to: (i) the Criminal Enforcement Division for the purposes of combating public corruption and coordinating statewide efforts to address the opioid epidemic; (ii) the victims assistance units for the purpose of augmenting efforts to assist victims of peer-to-peer harassment and workplace sexual harassment; and (iii) the Office of Public Access Counselor to enhance its ability to secure compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act.
What are the greatest challenges facing the next attorney general?
The greatest challenges facing the next attorney general with respect to the operation of the Office are: (i) restoring a nonpartisan approach to the Office in a political environment that is increasingly fractured and hyper-partisan; (ii) restoring the public's confidence in the Office after high-profile allegations of public corruption have gone unchecked; and (iii) maximizing scarce Office resources in a time when issues such as the opioid epidemic, government transparency and violence demand increased leadership from the Attorney General.
Give us some examples of when you displayed independence from your party or staked out an unpopular position.
I have displayed independence from my party by supporting criminal justice reform for more than a decade. Although many Republicans have advocated for a more punitive approach to the criminal justice system, I have supported a more restorative approach because I believe it will promote human dignity; reduce recidivism rates, thereby keeping communities safer; and make better use of government resources, which are currently being squandered on a broken system and failed policies.
Additionally, while many Republicans support the death penalty, I oppose it because I believe the American legal system neither has the necessary safeguards to prevent an innocent person from being executed nor meets the Constitutional requirements of due process and equal protection. Accordingly, I would oppose any attempts to reinstate the death penalty in Illinois.
I staked out what was, at the time, an unpopular position by advocating as Miss America that schools had a greater responsibility for protecting students from peer-to-peer harassment. While many people viewed bullying as simply an adolescent rite of passage or harmless child's play, I made the case that bullying posed a substantial threat to the emotional, physical and educational well-being of young people and necessitated action by the adults charged with educating and protecting them.
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?
I would seek to maintain the Office's independence by establishing a clear set of guidelines for determining when the Office took action, with such criteria to include: (i) Whether the Office was statutorily required to take action; (ii) Whether a constitutional or statutory violation was involved; (iii) Whether another governmental entity was better situated to initiate the action; and (iv) whether Illinoisan's interests were directly at issue. The goal would be to ensure that independent decision-making was occurring, the Attorney General's Office was involved in legal issues — as opposed to political issues, and the principles of separation of powers and federalism were being upheld. Additionally, I would arrange for ethics trainings to be conducted by outside experts who specialize in properly identifying and resolving some of the unique complexities that arise in State Attorney's General offices.
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?
While the Illinois Constitution is vague regarding the Attorney General's role, Illinois statutes more clearly define the broad scope of the Attorney General's role and make clear that the Attorney General's responsibilities exceed that of advisor and include vigorous advocacy, administration of key programs, and enforcement of laws. Furthermore, to the extent due process or equal protection concerns arise in issues such as education or taxation, the Attorney General has an obligation to be proactive. However, in order to preserve the separation of powers delineated in Illinois' Constitution and safeguard the Attorney General's ability to defend the constitutionality of Illinois laws if challenged, the Attorney General should limit policy proposals to issues that implicate the Office's role and/or authority.
Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.
I am a college football fan and try to watch as many games as possible. Unsurprisingly, my favorite team remains the Fighting Illini, and I am excited to watch Coach Lovie Smith continue to rebuild the program.
What distinguishes you from your opponents?
What distinguishes me from my opponents is my emphasis on combating public corruption and restoring nonpartisanship to the Office.