Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
City: River Forest
Office sought: Cook State's Attorney
Family: Married, four children
Occupation: Cook County State's Attorney
Education: Chicago-Kent College of Law, Chicago, Juris Doctor, January 1986 Loyola University, Chicago, B.S., Social Work, 1982 Maria High School, Chicago
Civic involvement: Chicago Bar Association -- President, 2009-2010 -- Second Vice President, 2007-2009 -- Secretary, 2005-2007 -- Also served on Board of Managers; Judicial Evaluation Committee National Hispanic Prosecutor's Assocation -- Founding Member as well as National President, 2001-2002 Professional Organizations -- Hispanic National Bar Association -- Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois -- National District Attorneys Association -- Women's Bar Assocation of Illinois -- Leadership Greater Chicago Committees / Boards -- Maria High School Board of Directors -- Fenwick High School Board of Trustees
Elected offices held: Cook County State's Attorney, 2008-Present
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No
Key Issue 1
Gun violence and other violent crimes continue to present an imminent threat to the public and a significant challenge for law enforcement and average citizens in Chicago and throughout Cook County. Since my election in 2008, there have been six Chicago police officers slain in random gun violence, a sobering reminder of this epidemic. One of the most significant public safety initiatives that I have worked on in my first term as State?s Attorney is a new law that increases criminal penalties for street gang members arrested by police in possession of loaded weapons. The ?Valadez Law,? written by the State?s Attorney?s Office and signed into law in Illinois in December of 2009, is named in honor of slain Chicago Police Officer Alejandro Valadez who was killed in June of 2009 while he was on duty and responding to a call of shots fired in the Englewood community. Defendants convicted under the law now face a mandatory prison sentence instead of being able to obtain probation. Three gang members were charged with the murder of Officer Valadez and I am personally handling the prosecution of these cases. The first defendant, Shawn Gaston, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 125 years on Oct. 28, 2011. The trials for the two remaining defendants are pending. More than 300 gang members have been charged under the new law with more than 145 of those cases resulting in convictions or guilty pleas. The remaining cases are pending. My office also recently worked to develop a new anti-crime legislative initiative designed to target gang leaders and the organized structures of street gangs. The Illinois Street Gang Rico measure, signed into law last June, will enable local prosecutors to investigate and indict cases applying the tools of "Rico." The law will enable prosecutors to target gang organizations engaged in a pattern of crimes involving violence such as illegal weapons, sex offenses, terrorism and drug trafficking. Using this tool, different organized crime offenses and offenders may be joined into a single proceeding and prosecutors can target the structure of the criminal organization itself and allow judges and juries to hear and see a complete picture of the overall criminal activity of the gang and its leadership.
Key Issue 2
Human trafficking is a crime that has largely gone unreported and unrecognized here in Cook County. The State of Illinois currently has one of the highest rates of calls on the National Human Trafficking Hotline and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimates that more than 6,000 at-risk children are being trafficked right here in Cook County. As I settled into my role as State?s Attorney and began to evaluate the way my office had traditionally handled this crime, it became clear to me that we needed to make some dramatic changes. I created a Human Trafficking Initiative in the State?s Attorney?s Office dedicated to conducting long-term, proactive investigations into human trafficking operations. In 2010, my office was one of just three governmental agencies in the nation to be chosen to receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Justice to assist in our efforts. We have also developed a strong alliance of federal, state and local partners to address this crime and we have partnerships with local social service providers so that they can assist us during human trafficking takedowns and step in immediately to provide services to young victims who become caught up in forced prostitution or trafficking. I am particularly proud of our efforts in drafting and helping to bring into law the ?Illinois Safe Children?s Act,? which was signed into law in 2009. This new law has become one of the most comprehensive and sweeping pieces of legislation to be enacted by any jurisdiction across the country aimed at protecting children who are victims of sex trafficking. The new law decriminalizes juvenile prostitution and enables us to treat children as victims. It increases criminal penalties for pimps and for the customers of prostitutes and, most importantly, it provides local prosecutors like me with the ability to use wiretaps in criminal investigations of human trafficking rings. Prior to passage of this law, local prosecutors here in Illinois had the authority to use wiretaps as a tool to go after people who were selling drugs, but we could not use wiretaps to go after people selling the sexual services of children. In August of 2011, with the help of this new legislation, we charged 10 Chicago gang members in the nation?s first ever state-based wiretap investigation targeting human trafficking. ?Operation Little Girl Lost? targeted street gang members who sex trafficked children and young women, some as young as 12 years old, to sell their sexual services on the streets or the internet as a commodity.
Key Issue 3
When I ran for State?s Attorney, I listened and learned a lot from the voters of Cook County. One of the topics that came up repeatedly was the issue of public corruption and the many scandals that have given our state a very embarrassing reputation. Since my election I have been working very hard to attack this problem and to step up the efforts of my office to attack this problem. At the outset of my administration, I hired a formal federal prosecutor to help lead our efforts to investigate and prosecute cases involving financial, government and public corruption. We reorganized our public corruption and financial crimes units and made fundamental changes to help foster more new case referrals and enhance partnerships with our investigative partners. Based upon these efforts, my Special Prosecutions Bureau has achieved significant improvements in the number and the nature of the public corruption and white collar cases being prosecuted by our office. Since taking office, my administration has indicted more than 100 offenders on public corruption and professional standards cases (police misconduct). We also launched ?Operation Cookie Jar,? an ongoing effort to target public or government employees who have violated the public trust at the local level, including thefts from park districts, local village boards and township government. This ongoing initiative has resulted in charges against 27 defendants. Of the 27, 14 of the defendants have pled guilty or been convicted on felony charges receiving sentences ranging from probation and restitution to up to six years in prison. "Cookie Jar" prosecutions have also led to the collection and reimbursement of more than $3 million in restitution payments for local governments and other agencies that were victimized.
How can the state's attorney's office be improved upon? What changes in operation do you propose? Please be specific.
I have worked very hard during my first term as State?s Attorney to make the changes that I felt were required in the office and to introduce and implement many new initiatives dealing with crimes such as domestic violence, mortgage fraud, and organized retail theft and fencing. And in an effort to be smarter on crime, we have greatly expanded and enhanced our alternative courts such as drug court and veteran?s court which provide significant cost savings to the county and meaningful alternative programming for offenders. But there is certainly always room for continued improvement and I will work in that direction and adopt and embrace management or operational changes that I believe can improve the office. Specifically, I will be continuing to introduce new initiatives in the legislative arena that I feel can improve public safety or give prosecutors like myself better tools to fight crime. Another specific area that I am focusing on moving forward is the handling of post conviction cases within our Criminal Prosecutions Bureau. I created a Conviction Integrity Unit last February to focus on cases involving questionable or possible wrongful convictions and I think we have the opportunity to make further progress moving forward. I believe that we can be more pro-active in reviewing and handling these cases and I intend to make this a focus of my efforts if I am re-elected to the position of State?s Attorney.
Do you support or oppose the decision to stop complying with federal requests that suspected illegal immigrants be held in jail for an additional 48 hours after their scheduled release? Please explain.
As a prosecutor, it is extremely frustrating when a violent defendant is given a low bond or a bond that enables them to get out of custody and flee the jurisdiction. There is nothing more agonizing than having to tell a victim of a violent crime, or the family of a victim who has been murdered, that the defendant responsible for the crime may never be brought to justice. It is my position that a common sense approach is needed and that Cook County needs to honor ICE detainers in most cases in the best interests of public safety. I would agree that spending taxpayer money to incarcerate or detain a person due to a minor offense such as a traffic stop is a wasteful use of resources and can and should be addressed. But I also believe that the Cook County Board should pass an ordinance that directs the Sheriff to comply with federal detainers for all felony offenders. I would also urge compliance with detainers for recidivist offenders who commit crime after crime, be they felonies or misdemeanors. A detainer should also be complied with even in cases of first time misdemeanor offenders if they are charged with a crime of violence. In my view, this should not be viewed as an immigration issue nor should it be given greatest priority as a cost savings issue, although I do support the county?s contention that Cook County should be reimbursed by federal authorities for the costs associated with the compliance of their detainers. But ultimately, this is first and foremost a public safety issue and I think the citizens of Cook County expect and deserve that we will do everything within our power to keep them safe and to hold violent offenders accountable for their crimes.
What, if anything, should be done to improve the state's attorney's handling of sexual assualt investigations and conviction rate?
With regard to cases related to the crime of sexual assault, the Cook County State?s Attorney?s Office recognizes the severity of these personal violations and has specialized units within the office to give these cases the specific attention they require. Assistant State?s Attorneys assigned to our Sex Crimes Division are specially trained to review allegations of sexual assault and to prosecute offenders charged with sexual crimes. As with all cases, sexual assault allegations are reviewed on a case by case basis, on their own merit. Prosecutors work with local law enforcement to review all evidence as it relates to the allegation and will follow the law to determine whether there is sufficient legal basis to charge an offender with a sexual assault. Cook County prosecutors approve more than 70 percent of all sexual assault allegations brought to us by local law enforcement agencies. If charges are not immediately approved, prosecutors can continue the case if appropriate for further investigation, reject charges or seek misdemeanor charges where appropriate. In an effort to improve our efforts, over the past several years I have implemented unprecedented training for my employees as well as offering specialized training for other law enforcement agencies on the crime of sexual assault. My office now offers police agencies, including colleges and campus police agencies, specialized training and information sharing on cases involving non-stranger and alcohol/drug facilitated sexual assault, crimes that can be extremely challenging for police and prosecutors. Additionally, we recently conducted first-of-its-kind extensive domestic violence and sex assault training for our Assistant State?s Attorneys, investigators and victim witness assistants. This training included session on victim dynamics, working with survivors of sexual assault and best practices for interviewing victims. My office also assisted rape victim advocates in obtaining federal funding to provide extensive (up to 24 hours) of sexual assault training for our employees over the next six months. The Cook County State?s Attorney?s Office is and will continue to be committed to seeking justice on behalf of all victims of sexual assault.
What do you think about the county's plans to begin charging for parking at courthouses, and the impact that will have on employees, those involved in court proceedings and the public?
While I recognize the county's need for increased revenues, I oppose plans to charge for parking at our public courthouses. It can already be quite difficult to get our victims and our jurors to court and I think charging a fee for parking when these people are coming forward to fulfill their civic responsibilities will only cause greater difficulty and delays in cases. I also do not believe that our employees should have to pay to park when they come to work each day. For example, our assistant state's attorneys and our administrative employees at 26th and California already work under extremely difficult circumstances. Our offices at 26th Street are extremely antiquated and overcrowded and have not been updated in decades. We are consistently short on office supplies in the building and even simple things like bathroom soap and hand towels are in short supply. In fact, our employees routinely take up collections among themselves to provide handsoap and other basic items in the workplace. I do not support asking these employees to pay for parking when they are already working under these types of conditions.
Can this office meet budget goals set forth by Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle without compromising services? Is so, how? If not, what alternative do you propose?
Over the last 10 years, the Cook County budget for public safety has been reduced by 12 percent overall. During that same time, the Cook County State's Attorney's budget has been cut by more than 26 percent. Since 2002, the State's Attorney's Office has lost 127 Assistant State's Attorneys, 35 Investigators and a debilitating 226 members of our administrative support staff. These cuts have steadily eroded the ranks of the office, negatively impacted our ability to retain quality attorneys, particularly minority attorneys, and had an overall negative impact on the quality of service in many areas. Despite this steady stream of cuts, the statutory responsibilities of my office have continued to increase. In fact, prosecutors in the Cook County State's Attorney's Office carry a higher caseload than most if not all of their counterparts across the nation. The office also has more statutory responsibilities than any of the five largest prosecutor's offices in the nation. Not only does Cook County handle felony, juvenile and misdemeanor cases, but also traffic cases, appeals and civil actions. When it comes to budget cuts, I do not believe that all county agencies should be measured equally but instead considered individually with an honest assessment of how the office performs and how important its services are to Cook County taxpayers. In my view, every agency in Cook County government was not created and does not perform equally. If the Cook County Board President faces cuts than I believe that those cuts should be laid upon waste and redundance and not vital public safety services. I believe that it is bad public policy to continue to undermine the funding of the county's own public interest attorneys. As prosecutors and government civil lawyers, the dedicated men and women of the State's Attorney's Office provide the highest quality legal services for victims of crime and the citizens of Cook County and they do it at a bargain price far below market value.