By David Stanczak
In the 70’s and 80’s, I had considerable contact with police officers. One of the sayings that was popular in the law enforcement community back then was that “There’s no Miranda north of I-80.” The essence of the statement was that law enforcement up there was a little more rough and tumble than in McLean County. Conduct that would be the basis for a lawsuit or at least a sensational news story down here wouldn’t raise more than one eyebrow in the Chicago area.
The difference in how things are handled and perceived between here and Chicago was illustrated in a news story that just came out. It grows out of the Jussie Smollett case. For those of you who lost track of the case, here’s what happened. Jussie Smollett a gay, black Chicago actor who had a prominent role in a TV show, called police and said he was the victim of a hate crime. According to him, two white guys wearing Trump caps ambushed him at 2 a.m. threw some liquid on him and placed a noose around his neck. They told him he was in MAGA Country and they apparently found his blackness and gayness offensive. The sensational nature of this attack and the negative publicity about it caused the Chicago PD to do a full court press. They investigated the case, probably like few others in recent memory, to the tune of $130,000 in overtime. The CPD ultimately concluded, and a highly irritated Superintendent Eddie Johnson, flanked by Mayor Rahm, announced that the attack never happened; it had been staged by Smollett and two accomplices. While the cops were chasing their tails looking for two nonexistent white supremacists, they were not tracking down killers preying on the community. Several charges were filed against Smollett, and the City announced its intention to recover their overtime costs from him in court. Kim Foxx, the newly elected State’s Attorney had taken a phone call from an Obama associate while the investigation was going on; she deflected criticism for taking the call by announcing that she would “recuse” herself from the case. But she didn’t really; she just passed it off to one of her subordinates without isolating herself from contact with that subordinate. What Foxx either didn’t know, or didn’t care about was that, when a state’s attorney recuses herself, she must ask the Chief Judge to appoint a special prosecutor. But nobody complained, at least until her subordinate and Smollett’s attorney appeared before a judge, in an unscheduled hearing at which all charges against Smollett were dropped in exchange for Smollett agreeing to perform some community service and pay a token amount of money. In addition, at the request of both attorneys, the judge sealed all the records of the case.
The reaction to the deal was virtually unanimous: Foxx was roundly condemned by virtually every expert prosecutor asked to opine about it. Eddie Johnson and Rahm Emanuel were livid. The only one smiling was Smollett, who had the gall and bad judgment to assert his innocence (when all the evidence to the contrary had been sealed by court order). The stench was so bad that a retired First District Appellate Court judge filed a suit asking for a special prosecutor. To many persons’ amazement, she got one. Even better, the special prosecutor named was Dan Webb, a former U.S. Attorney with an impeccable reputation.
Fast forward to today. It was just disclosed that Webb received a letter from Kim Foxx’s attorney reminding him that in 2016, he had donated $1,000 to Kim Foxx’s campaign for State’s Attorney. Webb sloughed it off as irrelevant on the ground that he often made political contributions at the request of one or another of his partners at the law firm. (Aside: if I had made a $1,000 to anyone’s campaign, I sure as hell would have remembered it, and it wouldn’t have been because a business associate suggested it.) But then it was discovered that Webb was shown as co-host of a fundraiser for Foxx. Oops. Webb reportedly didn’t think that was a conflict of interest either.
I don’t think Webb has a conflict of interest. Foxx’s impact on Webb’s career is no more substantial than the bug that gets splattered on your windshield while driving on the highway. But the lack of a legal conflict of interest is not to say that his involvement will be overlooked no matter the outcome of the investigation. From everything I have seen, the case calls for a refiling of all charges against Smollett and either taking the case to trial or negotiating a plea agreement which reflects the gravity of the offense. In addition, all the circumstances surrounding Foxx’s handling (or rather mishandling) of the case, including the identity of all those who leaned on her or put their thumbs on the scales of justice, should be made public. Granted, I have formed an opinion, but so have a lot of other people. And anything that resembles Webb pulling his punches with respect to Foxx’s conduct will leave people wondering why. In a case that smells this bad, mere fresh air isn’t enough. We need a de-odorizer to restore public confidence.
Only in Crook County could such a potentially serious appearance of impropriety be so casually waved off.
David Stanczak, a WJBC commentator since 1995, came to Bloomington in 1971. He served as the City of Bloomington’s first full-time legal counsel for over 18 years, before entering private practice. He is currently employed by the Snyder Companies and continues to reside in Bloomington with his family.
The opinions expressed within WJBC’s Voices are solely those of the Voices’ author, and are not necessarily those of WJBC or Cumulus Media, Inc.