One day after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx forced her top deputy out of the office after a 26-year-career, a veteran prosecutor is speaking out.
“Take responsibility, madam State’s Attorney,” the assistant state’s attorney said in an open letter provided to CWBChicago. “We’re holding on by a thread.” The prosecutor’s full letter is published below.
Jennifer Coleman, named Foxx’s second-in-command late last year, was unceremoniously shown the door Wednesday after Foxx’s office investigated how a misleading summary of the events leading to the police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo made it into a bond court presentation last month.
While explaining allegations against Ruben Roman, the 21-year-old who allegedly gave Toledo the handgun he was seen holding a split-second before a police officer shot him, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy gave a step-by-step explanation of the shooting that left many with the impression that Toledo had a gun in his hand when he was shot.
When the city released videos of the shooting days later, it appeared that Toledo tossed the gun behind a fence and then turned toward the officer with empty hands raised, all in less than a second.
Foxx put Murphy on a leave of absence after the videos were released. Foxx’s spokesperson said Murphy “failed to fully inform himself before speaking in court…and this has been addressed with the individual involved.”
But the internal investigation showed Murphy was never given access to all of the information Foxx’s office had about the shooting because it was held by a “walled-off” group of prosecutors who investigate shootings that involve police officers. Murphy has now returned to work.
Despite Foxx’s original statements about Murphy, he apparently didn’t “fail” to inform himself — Foxx’s own policies prevented him from accessing information. Coleman, Murphy’s supervisor, did have access to the full spectrum of information, but she did not review his bond court presentation in advance, according to the investigation.
And, the investigation found, just hours before Murphy was to announce allegations against Roman, Coleman told Murphy to add a charge of child endangerment to the state’s allegations. The new charge required Murphy to include information about the shooting in his courtroom presentation at the last minute.
In light of the investigation’s findings, it’s not clear why Foxx’s spokesperson blamed Murphy for a so-called failure or why anything needed to be “addressed” with him. Nor is it clear why Foxx and other leaders were seemingly unaware that he was walled-off from information by their own design.
Now, here is the open letter CWBChicago received from an assistant state’s attorney after Foxx announced Coleman’s departure Wednesday. It is being published anonymously because the state’s attorney’s office does not allow its employees to speak freely to the media. CWBChicago has confirmed the author’s employment as a current Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney.
The People of Cook County should be concerned. Kim Foxx’s poor leadership has led to dark days within the State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO). What the public doesn’t see is the misery and melancholy that Kim Foxx has created in those that carry out the day to day functions of the SAO. Morale is practically non-existent. Staff are dropping like flies. The Assistant State’s Attorneys (ASA) of Cook County feel unsupported, unappreciated, and unnoticed.
When Foxx was elected, she held a mandatory meeting at 26th Street for all prosecutors. There, she gave examples of mistakes that she had made, reminding us that she understood what it was like to work in the trenches. She told us she supported us. She told us she was one of us. She told us she had our back. She lied.
When James “Jim” Murphy was put on leave, our hearts collectively ached and a palpable stress could be felt throughout the Office. Anxiety collectively rose amongst the ranks.
You see, it’s not just that Jim is a well-respected and dedicated prosecutor, who was the backbone of the entire central bond court operation during this crippling pandemic. It’s that Jim could have been any one of us.
Each ASA in the Office, at some point, has to work bond court. We all know how it works. It’s organized chaos. States Attorneys have just a handful of hours to work up the backgrounds and create proffers of hundreds of defendants who come flying through bond court. We have to run back and forth between the clerk’s office to file violations of bond and probation, call up the Sheriffs to clarify why we have a surprise arrest report sitting in front of us when there are no new charges for this defendant.
It’s so busy that we don’t eat breakfast or lunch. We limit how much coffee we drink because there’s no time for a bathroom break. In order to get through the work, we rely on the words of others. Of our fellow ASAs, of the police who called felony review, of those who authored draft reports. Jim could have been any one of us. It could have just as easily been me who was put on leave. And, despite what she once promised us, Kim doesn’t have our backs.
Almost every ASA in the Office came to this job for the same reason. To do good. We put in overtime without any additional compensation. We sacrifice time with our families and friends in favor of trial preparation. We are drowning in student loan debt.
We didn’t take our law degree to the public sector to gain fortune or fame; we did it because our work is a calling. Seeking justice is woven into our muscle fibers and our hearts are in this job. We love what we do. But we cannot do our best work without competent leadership.
When we see Jennifer Coleman resign, we get angry. Upset. Disappointed. It shakes the confidence in the Office. And it’s not just Coleman. Foxx demoted Peter “Guy” Lisuzzo, a beloved prosecutor, without an explanation to her workforce. She recently lost Alan Spellberg, oft considered amongst the smartest and most esteemed prosecutors within the ranks of the SAO.
To the detriment of the People of the State of Illinois, too many experienced and valuable state’s attorneys have left or been forced to resign. Their knowledge, respect, and value is irreplaceable. The Office is being gutted and morale is at an all-time low.
This Office belongs to Kim Foxx. She is the leader and it’s time she fully accepts that role. Take responsibility, madam State’s Attorney. A workforce without strong leadership yields poor productivity, turnover, and mistakes. You, Kim Foxx, need to be held accountable. For Toledo. For Smollett. For all the other times when you let your prosecutors, your people, down. Make a change before your Office collapses underneath you. We’re holding on by a thread, Kim.
Side note: As the Jussie Smollett hate crime case was unfolding, Spellberg wrote a memo that warned senior staff members that Foxx could not simply appoint another attorney to oversee the case after she recused herself. Had his advice been followed, Foxx’s office could have avoided years of public scrutiny, the appointment of a special prosecutor to review her office’s handling of the case, and other embarrassments.
The author of the letter published above is not the same assistant state’s attorney who wrote a scathing open letter to Foxx during the Smollett scandal in 2019.