Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx says office making strides in hiring

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Amid mounting criticism her office is experiencing major attrition and turnover, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx on Monday said hiring is on the upswing and that she’ll continue to be aggressive to solve the problem.

Foxx’s comments came during the state’s attorney’s annual budget hearing with the Cook County Board of Commissioners where she also defended supporting state laws sponsors say will solve long-term inequities in the criminal justice system but opponents claim will lead to more crime across Illinois.

Foxx chastised some of the state’s attorneys in other counties who oppose the so-called SAFE-T Act, saying they are spreading “misinformation” about the highly politicized legislation that passed in 2021.

In the middle of her second term as state’s attorney, Foxx has faced criticism on multiple fronts, including that a larger-than-normal number of assistant state’s attorney’s and other staffers have resigned and that morale in the office is low. Foxx blamed many of the resignations as part of the “Great Resignation” that occurred nationwide as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx struggles to keep up with prosecutor exits ]

“The state’s attorney’s office has not been spared from the Great Resignation, in which we saw a number of people leave the office and — in fact the field — during the course of the last two years due to the pandemic,” Foxx said.

An attrition analysis from the county’s budget office recorded 237 vacancies in the office, an amount county Finance Chairman John Daley, who has been on the board for three decades, said, “seems a very high number to me, in the years I’ve been on the board.”

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx shakes hands after answering questions about the SAFE-T Act on Oct. 14, 2022.

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx shakes hands after answering questions about the SAFE-T Act on Oct. 14, 2022. (Michael Blackshire / Chicago Tribune)

Following the hearing, a Foxx spokesperson said that number represented vacancies “over time” and that as of Oct. 1, the office had 166 vacant positions out of the 1,432 positions budgeted for this year. Of 746 budgeted assistant state’s attorney positions, 107 are vacant, Foxx’s office said.

Foxx told the county panel she’s been “aggressively” hiring new prosecutors, poaching civil attorneys and that “we have continued to bring in new staff on a fairly regular clip.”

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“We’re not there in terms of being fully staffed, but we’re aggressively managing it,” she said.

The Tribune previously reported that longtime prosecutors were disgruntled and that rosters showed a number of felony courtrooms were understaffed at the same time prosecutors dealt with a case backlog.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s budget recommendation for 2023 increases the office’s head count. Those new positions, including an additional 23 attorneys and 16 staff, will help with the implementation of many provisions in the SAFE-T Act, Foxx said, by working “in bond court to be able to do the work that is necessary.”

That extra staff is needed for the detailed “dangerousness hearings” involving violent crimes. “The time, depth and commitment that we need for our assistants to do these reviews with these new standards in place will slow processes … if we don’t have additional bodies to do it,” Foxx said.

Foxx, who helped craft the SAFE-T Act, also called out fellow state’s attorneys who she said had politicized the legislation. The law passed roughly 18 months ago but only now are prosecutors raising objections, she said. Dozens of state’s attorneys across Illinois have filed lawsuits challenging the measure.

“I think what has happened in the course of the last several weeks is a misinformation campaign,” she said.

Foxx said she anticipates more violent offenders will be held in jail without bond after the no cash bail provisions take effect in January, a claim Republican Cook County Commissioner Sean Morrison questioned.

“I disagree with your assessment, professionally,” he said. “It’s one of the number one issues within suburban Cook County, and rightfully so. Violence is certainly spreading.”

Foxx acknowledged that changes to the legislation should be made and said she is taking part in discussions about what those changes should be.

“We absolutely need to make sure that the language is clear and unequivocal so that there is not this confusion that has crept up — again, some intentional, and some because the language needs to be better,” she said.

aquig@chicagotribune.com

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October 24, 2022 at 08:03PM

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