A New Day for Cook County

A Plan To Restore Public Trust

in the State’s Attorney’s Office

Dear Chicagoans,

There is no entity in our country with a greater imperative to operate with fairness, integrity, and transparency than our justice system. The right to equal treatment under the law and an equitable approach from those bound to enforce it must be a bedrock principle of our society, even if it is one that all too often our institutions have failed to meet. Regardless of race, neighborhood, income level, or who they know, everyone deserves fairness, justice, and equality.

Read the full ethics plan here.

Throughout my life, I’ve always worked to uphold these principles, whether as an Assistant State’s Attorney here in Cook County – where I fought to hold corrupt, politically-connected government officials accountable as part of the Public Corruption and Financial Crimes unit – or in my service as a Naval Intelligence Officer fighting the Taliban overseas.

Yet these are values that, here at home, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has frequently failed to live up to. When our State’s Attorney takes office then months later settles lawsuits with large corporations represented by her donor, Ed Burke – resulting in Cook County losing millions in property tax revenue – citizens should be alarmed. When a high-profile Hollywood actor has charges against him dropped – while an ordinary citizen is prosecuted for the same offense at the same time – it’s clear that no level playing field exists.

Cook is the second largest county in America, and it’s unacceptable that more than 5 million people are living under a State’s Attorney’s Office that demonstrates a lack of commitment to the ethical principles on which our justice system depends.

Citizens deserve a new approach that sets a zero-tolerance standard for ethics and transparency to reform the State’s Attorney’s Office into an entity that every citizen can trust. When elected, my chief goal will be to bring integrity and independence to the State’s Attorney’s Office by removing even the possibility of political considerations from decisions in the case handling process, treating all cases equally regardless of who the victim or defendant is, aggressively prosecuting public corruption cases to clean up our government and send a message that no one is above the law, and always being open and honest with citizens. Through this reform, we’ll professionalize and modernize an office that has simply become too politicized.

Above all, it’s time we had a State’s Attorney that will restore public trust in the office. Chicagoans deserve to know that their State’s Attorney will have their back and work to protect them while holding lawbreakers and corrupt corporations or government officials accountable. That’s exactly what I’ll do in office where, together, we’ll usher in a New Day for Cook County.

Sincerely,

Bill Conway


Bring integrity and fairness to the State’s Attorney’s Office, while professionalizing what has become a politicized organization

Remove the influence of politics from the State’s Attorney’s Office

There should never be even the slightest hint of improper influence on the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. But sadly, that’s not the case today, as our current State’s Attorney was caught taking political contributions from an opposing lawyer in key legal matters involving millions in taxpayer dollars.

The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board summed up the problem best: “How would you feel if the Cook County state’s attorney candidate took a political donation from a lawyer and then handed the lawyer’s client a big chunk of your money?” Alarmingly, that’s exactly what’s happened.

For decades, politician-lawyers like Alderman Ed Burke have used their prominent positions to pressure potential clients into using their law firms then turned around and used their connections as politicians to get their clients special deals. This is especially apparent within the Cook County property tax assessment and appeals process; unfair or inaccurate assessments have forced owners to hire attorneys like Burke to appeal their assessment in the hopes of reaching a settlement that lowers the property’s value and the owner’s taxes. And all of this comes at a cost to local governments — in particular schools — which rely on those taxes as a revenue stream and are forced to return significant sums of money when the relevant State’s Attorney reaches a settlement that retroactively lowers the assessment.

Burke has routinely filed appeals before ultimately reaching settlements with the State’s Attorney’s Office. However, in order for Burke’s money-making scheme to work best, as the Chicago Sun-Times reports, “it’s important for… Burke to have a good working relationship with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.” So, while our current State’s Attorney was running for office in 2016, Burke began to build bridges with the soon-to-be prosecutor, contributing $10,000 and holding a high-dollar fundraiser for her campaign coffers that raised thousands more.

Fast forward one year: Burke represents AT&T in a property tax appeal case, arguing that from 2013 to 2015 his client’s property was worth significantly less than the county’s assessment. After Burke repeatedly filed suits for the preceding years and seemingly got nowhere, less than one year after taking office, our current State’s Attorney settled Burke’s case a refunded nearly $2 million, the largest individual property tax appeal settlement she reached during her first eleven months in charge. Bearing the brunt of the $2 million refund were local governments, in particular Barrington School District 220, which was forced to pay out $1.1 million despite not being made aware of the settlement negotiations until Foxx closed the case.

It doesn’t take an ethics expert to understand that this insider dealing smells.

In reaction to this scandal, the Sun-Times editorial board advised that “any elected official in a position to influence the size of a property tax bill should not be allowed, by state law, to accept campaign contributions from property tax lawyers.” This should be common sense.

Our current State’s Attorney may not have heeded those words, choosing to keep the tainted contributions instead of immediately returning them. I take them seriously, though, and while I cannot change the law myself I can pledge to you right now that I will not take contributions from property tax attorneys in my campaign for Cook County State’s Attorney, nor will I do so after being elected to the office.

While others might be comfortable cozying up to machine politicians like Burke while cutting their clients deals at the cost of local governments and schools — I am not.

Treat all cases the same regardless of the characteristics of the Defendant or the Victim

Sadly, however, the behavior of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office calls into question whether this critical principle has always applied. Earlier this year, Hollywood actor Jussie Smollett was alleged to have fabricated a police report. Smollett was initially charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for the incident, an offense Cook County has prosecuted repeatedly against other people who aren’t famous or politically connected. But against Smollett, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office abruptly dropped all charges, drawing widespread criticism of a double standard. It was later revealed that a politically-connected attorney had been in direct contact with the State’s Attorney on Smollett’s behalf, and a special prosecutor was later appointed to investigate the decision to drop the case.

In contrast to Smollett, ordinary Chicagoans do not receive the benefit of having criminal charges against them abruptly dropped, potentially due to their celebrity and political connections. Take the example of Candace Clark, a Cook County resident charged with a felony for what the Judge overseeing the case called a less serious infraction than Smollett’s. Yet lacking Smollett’s connections and high profile, Clark found a far different justice system, one in which prosecutors fully pursued the charges against her.

That’s why I decided to represent Clark myself at no cost – because everyone deserves a fair and equitable defense under the law, no matter who they are or where they come from.

These two cases expose the fact that Cook County has one set of rules for the elites, and another set of rules for everybody else. That’s simply wrong.

As Cook County State’s Attorney, I’ll end this preferential treatment and ensure everyone is treated equally under the law, no matter what.

Aggressively prosecute public corruption cases

When I served as an Assistant State’s Attorney in Cook County, I was unafraid to prosecute public corruption cases and focused on holding lawbreaking officials accountable for ripping off taxpayers. I was proud to be a member of the newly-created Public Corruption and Financial Crimes unit, in which I worked to expose and prosecute a Harwood Heights city accountant who stole more than $135,000 from taxpayers, the Hanover Township employee who stole nearly $200,000 from the township’s welfare fund, a Cook County Department of Risk Management employee who stole more than $9,700 in workers’ compensation claims from the County, and a senior citizen project coordinator who stole $544 worth of taxpayer dollars intended to be used for food for elderly residents and used it instead to pay for a “booze-cruise” bus trip.

These were clear and unacceptable instances of public corruption, and we sent a message that we would not tolerate illegal behavior that takes advantage of taxpayers.

Yet today, those cases are no longer being prosecuted by the State’s Attorney’s Office with the same dedication, instead being ceded to federal prosecutors. We cannot rely on the U.S. Attorney’s Office to do the job for us and prosecute all corrupt politicians and public employees who steal from taxpayers.

Under my leadership, the State’s Attorney’s Office will vigorously investigate and prosecute public corruption once more. I have no financial ties and am not beholden to current elected officials and officeholders; I won’t be afraid to prosecute cases of public integrity. I am somebody that nobody sent and refuse to look the other way on public corruption.

Build the most honest and transparent Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office in history

It’s simple. As Cook County State’s Attorney, I pledge that county residents will never have a reason to doubt the integrity of my words and actions. Neither I, nor my office, will lie or tell falsehoods to the public. If I indicate why we have chosen to drop or prosecute a case, whether you agree or not, you can be assured that is the truth. The State’s Attorney of Cook County is a position of public trust and I will never violate that.

We’ll also bring new standards of transparency and openness to all decisions made by the office. I will be both available and accountable to Cook County citizens, the press, or anyone seeking more information on the operations of the State’s Attorney’s office, including decisions on major cases and resource allocation. This transparency is not only just – it will make us all better at our jobs as we will hold ourselves to the highest standards that taxpayers deserve.

Many candidates make similar promises when running for office – but we’ll actually put it into practice in everything we do.

A copy of our report filed with the State Board of Elections is (or will be) available on the Board’s official website (www.elections.il.gov) or for purchase from the State Board of Elections, Springfield, Illinois

Use of military rank, job titles, and photographs in uniform does not imply endorsement by the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense.

Paid for by Friends of Bill Conway

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