Chicago — Three women who each left high-ranking posts at the Cook County state’s attorney’s office in unrelated but newsmaking fashion made big career moves on Monday. Two of them were selected to be Cook County associate judges, and the third was chosen as a finalist to become the next U.S. Attorney in Chicago.
Federal prosecutor candidate
April Perry, the former chief ethics officer for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, resigned as the Jussie Smollett hate crime scandal exploded in 2019. Yesterday, Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth sent Perry’s name to President Joe Biden as one of two people he should consider for the top federal prosecutor job here.
While Chicago police were still investigating Smollett’s hate crime allegations, Perry informed the state’s attorney’s office staff in a memo that Foxx had “recused” herself from the investigation to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.
Foxx’s so-called recusal was improperly handled, a Cook County judge later decided, because Foxx personally named the person who would oversee the Smollett matter. The judge found that Foxx failed to follow the state’s recusal procedures. He also concluded that Foxx should not have named her own replacement because that decision could itself be influenced by any conflict she was trying to avoid.
Because Smollett’s case was resolved by prosecutors who were not properly chosen to represent the state, the judge tossed Smollett’s deal with Foxx’s office, setting the stage for a trial that resulted in Smollett’s conviction last year. Smollett’s attorneys are appealing the conviction.
Two months after Perry resigned, Foxx tried to blame her for the botched “recusal,” saying she was following “the advice and counsel of my then Chief Ethics Officer.”
Perry fired back, telling reporters that her advice to Foxx’s top assistant was to “seek the court’s approval and request a Special State’s Attorney appointment,” which is the process the judge found to be the correct action. Foxx decided against following Perry’s recommended action.
“It is a Chief Ethics Officer’s job to provide the best advice and guidance possible based upon the facts given to her at the time,” Perry told the press. “Sometimes that advice is followed, sometimes it is not.”
Perry is now a senior attorney for GE Healthcare and served as a federal prosecutor in Chicago for 12 years. She is also a hearing officer for the Chicago Police Board.
New associate judges
The other Foxx veterans to get career news on Monday are Jennifer Coleman and Natosha Toller.
In April 2021, Foxx placed veteran Cook County prosecutor James Murphy on leave after some people questioned the accuracy of an in-court description he gave of the Chicago police killing of Adam Toledo.
“We have put that individual [Murphy] on leave and are conducting an internal investigation into the matter,” Foxx’s spokesperson told the media.
But when the investigation report came out, it provided almost exactly the same version of events that Murphy presented in court. Murphy returned to the job, and his supervisor, Coleman, was forced out.
Despite Foxx’s original statements about Murphy, he didn’t “fail” to inform himself, as her office alleged. Foxx’s own policies prevented him from accessing all of the information he may have needed before the court hearing, the investigation found. Coleman, who was 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.
Toller, a widely-respected prosecutor who headed Foxx’s criminal prosecution branch, abruptly quit in February 2021. In an email to staff, Toller said she was leaving “with my integrity and reputation intact,” a line that raised many eyebrows inside and outside the state’s attorney’s office.
Coleman is currently employed by the Cook County sheriff’s office, and Toller works at the Judicial Inquiry Board, according to brief biographies released by the Illinois Supreme Court on Monday.
A total of 22 new associate judges were named in the court’s release, including six current employees of the Cook County state’s attorney’storney’s office and two attorneys from the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender.