Christopher Pfannkuche: Candidate profile
Office sought: Cook County state's attorney
Education: J.D. Law, 1980, Loyola University School of Law; B.S. Education, 1978, Loyola University of Chicago; B.A. Political Science, 1977, Loyola University of Chicago,
Civic involvement: Board member, legal adviser, Chicagoland Metropolitan Crime Commission; member of Polish American Police Association, German American Police Association, Italian American Police Association, Asian American Law Enforcement Association, Orland Park Law Enforcement Association, Shomrim Society, Emerald Society, Scandinavian American Police and Fire Association, International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association and Brotherhood of the Fallen; membership in numerous attorney bar associations including leadership positions with Northwest Suburban Bar Association and Coalition of Suburban Bar Associations.
Elected offices held: None Incumbent? If yes, when were first elected: No
Questions and Answers
1. Why are you running for this office, whether for re-election or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?
The State's Attorney's Office used to be viewed as one of the most professional prosecutor's offices in the nation, respected by both our communities and law enforcement. It is no longer viewed as such. Refusal to enforce laws as written, inexperience, incompetence, disrespect for law enforcement, an inability to avoid conflicts of interest, a lack of community outreach, and an appearance of unequal treatment have eroded the public's trust and confidence.
I am a career criminal prosecutor, having worked for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office for 31 years, fighting to enforce the laws and seeking to obtain justice for crime victims, while also imparting justice fairly, understanding that non-violent first offenders often deserve a second chance to turn their lives around. Legal knowledge, ability, trial skills, and seeking justice for all involved are integral skills to doing this job properly. I spent my career trying to help make this office professional and respectable. The State's Attorney takes an oath to enforce laws as written and does not have the right to selectively enforce or rewrite laws as he/she personally desires. That is the purview of the state legislature. I have the experience to get this job done. Experience matters!
2. How pertinent is the Jussie Smollett case to this election? If it should have been handled differently, how so?
The Jussie Smollett case is very pertinent to this election because it garnered national headlines and put the Cook County State's Attorney under a national microscope. The Jussie Smollett case was egregiously mishandled by the current State's Attorney. Highly controversial allegations involve: improper phone conversations creating a conflict of interest, an improper recusal, then improperly remaining in communication with the prosecuting attorney, advancing the case to an unannounced court date, dismissing 16 felony charges that had been just handed down by a duly empowered grand jury, imposing no penalty, and failing to ask for full restitution for the police manpower diverted to investigate this case. There was no transparency.
The Smollett case should have been treated with full transparency, just like every criminal case should be handled, with no secret back-room conversations, or unannounced court dates, with a full disposition agreement on the record.
However, while garnering national negative headlines questioning the competence of the State's Attorney, the Smollett case is merely a symptom of a deeper problem. Extensive experience matters to run the second largest prosecutor's office in the nation. The current State's Attorney does not have that experience, never having tried a single criminal case in her career.
3. How pertinent is criminal justice reform to this election? What should the state's attorney's office be doing in regards to that issue?
Criminal justice reform, when viewed in the proper perspective, is integral to this election. For years our county jail has been overflowing with non-violent offenders, waiting for their cases to be resolved. Studies have shown that mass incarceration does not deter crime. Incarcerating non-violent offenders takes them away from their families, jobs, or school. Consequently, they often slip into patterns of recurring criminal activity.
Priority must be focused on three major issues: 1) Violent offenders -- I will focus on prosecuting violent and repeat offenders to get them off the streets; 2) Public Corruption -- I will follow the trail of facts and credible evidence to go after corruption; 3) Opioid Drug Epidemic -- I will take swift action against the major perpetrators pumping opioids like heroin and fentanyl into our neighborhoods.
But I also believe that non-violent offenders deserve a second chance. I believe in both deferred prosecution and expungement programs. Years ago, I wrote the "Expungement Guide" used in Cook County. I would put emphasis on our Conviction Integrity Unit to ensure that convictions are sound. This job is about seeking justice, not about convictions. The actions of this office must become more transparent. Trust, confidence, and transparency must be restored.
4. What crime should be the office's top target. Drugs? Gang violence? Child sex abuse? Something else? Why? What steps will you take to address the priorities as you see them?
Gangs are the driving force behind violent crime and turf wars in Cook County. Chicago news stories are replete with reports of violent crimes occurring daily on our streets. Retaliatory shootings are a regular occurrence. Innocent teens are being gunned down on our streets. Teens look for random people to shoot. Flash mobs are endangering our shopping districts and are impacting our merchants. Many residents are afraid to walk their streets or send their children out to play. Neighborhoods are not safe. School zones, backyard parties, church steps, and barbershops are clearly no longer safe areas. I would seek to establish a joint gang task force with the U.S. Attorney's Office to combine resources and save taxpayer money. Gang leaders need to be targeted and vigorously prosecuted and gangs need to be shut down to deter further gang activity.
Given that gang crime sprees often cross jurisdictional boundaries I would look to work closely with a variety of federal and local law enforcement agencies to combine our resources, save taxpayer money, obtain convictions, and shut down gang activity. I would also seek to work closely with community leaders and law enforcement to endeavor to prevent gang violence before it occurs.
5. Describe your position regarding the allocation of resources in the state's attorney's office. Are personnel allocated as they should be? Are there capital expense or other budgetary items that the office must address, and, if so, how do you propose to address them?
Given budgetary constraints, a proper allocation of resources is crucial. Being creative and thinking out-of-the-box is necessary. The State's Attorney's Office can no longer view itself as an island in the vast sea of prosecuting crime. We need to look to establish joint task forces with a variety of federal agencies, to combine our crime fighting resources and save taxpayer money. We can often obtain better results pursuing charges in federal court due to tougher federal sentencing guidelines. Likewise, federal investigators and prosecutors working with us in state courts could enhance our likelihood of successful state prosecutions. Pursuing federal grants for special units within the State's Attorney's office is also another creative avenue. Establishing community outreach programs with our community leaders and residents to help prevent crime before it happens, or to solicit help in expediting criminal investigations to achieve successful prosecutions, would help relieve some of the staffing needs in our courtrooms. Better in-house training of our prosecutors would help expedite the processing of cases in our court system and help relieve some of the staffing needs in our courtrooms. My biggest priority would be in prosecuting violent and repeat offenders and I would focus my main resources there.
6. Name one concrete program you'll create or personnel move you'll make to improve efficiency in the office or make it more successful. Explain how it will be funded and how you will overcome any obstacles to initiating it.
To be successful, the State's Attorney's Office must be able to successfully and judiciously resolve cases in court. However, one of the biggest problems in criminal prosecutions is getting the cooperation of reluctant victims and witnesses to testify. There is an understandable "code of silence" that exists on the streets. Crime victims and witnesses are often afraid of intimidation and retaliation if they cooperate with legal authorities, since they often know the offenders, live on the same block as they do, or live within their gang territory. They are afraid to come forward or to cooperate and tell the truth about what happened. There is no support mechanism between the State's Attorney's Office and our communities.
Trust and confidence in our criminal justice system is extremely low. I have the experience to rebuild the bonds of trust and restore confidence in our criminal justice system. I will implement a major Community Outreach program, regularly rotating 700+ prosecutors out into our communities at no taxpayer expense: 1) to regularly meet with community leaders and work with them in preventing crime; 2) to rebuild strong ties with our communities; and 3) to work towards breaking the code of silence in our communities.