Top Foxx aide running for judgeship is ‘not qualified’: bar association

Risa Lanier (risalanier.com)

CHICAGO—The Illinois State Bar Association’s analysis of judicial candidates has found Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s highest-ranking assistant “not qualified” for the judge’s position that they are campaigning for.

First Assistant State’s Attorney Risa Renee Lanier, who infamously handled the Jussie Smollett confidential plea deal, failed to win the group’s seal of approval because some attorneys “expressed concerns over what they termed her honesty and candidness with the Court” and others thought Lanier “displayed poor decision-making skills.”

Those opinions outweighed input from other attorneys who had no concerns about Lanier’s honesty and deemed her “excellent.”

The bar group’s findings include another poke in the eye for Foxx: a high-profile prosecutor who left her office by sending a barn-burner farewell email to colleagues in 2022 is rated “qualified” after attorneys and sitting judges “gave all positive comments” about him.

Smollett’s seemingly endless saga continues to cast a shadow over Foxx’s office to this day. Yet, while people who cause that much trouble for their boss might expect to be forced out or see their careers stall, Ranier got promoted – twice – and now holds the second-highest job in the office. In that role, Lanier’s campaign site says, she supervises over 1,200 employees and over 700 lawyers, directing all of the office’s civil and criminal litigation.

The bar association’s two-paragraph review of Lanier’s qualifications does not offer examples of her alleged lack of honesty and candor.

Dan Webb, the special prosecutor who investigated the Smollett debacle at the behest of a Cook County judge, found that Lanier and her then-supervisor pointed the finger at each other when asked who handled Smollett’s settlement negotiations and provided conflicting information about the case.

The ISBA’s full review of Lanier states:

Ms. Risa Renee Lanier was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1999. She is a career prosecutor with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and has served as First Assistant since 2021. She previously served in other supervisory positions, including as Chief Deputy and Chief of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau. She is a past member of the Chicago Bar Association’s Board of Managers and Judicial Evaluation Committee, and currently serves on two committees. She is a member of the Cook County Bar Association and the National Black Prosecutors Association.

She has substantial criminal jury and bench trial experience, including in complex matters, and has handled several high-profile cases. Attorneys contacted during the investigation process had wide-ranging views, with some referring to her as excellent while others opined that she lacked judgement and displayed poor decision-making skills. Some also expressed concerns over what they termed her honesty and candidness with the Court, while others had no such concerns. ISBA finds Ms. Risa Renee Lanier not qualified to be elected to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Also reviewed by the bar association is judicial candidate James V. Murphy, a former supervising assistant state’s attorney who once reported to Lanier.

In April 2021, Murphy was put on leave after some people questioned the description he gave of the Chicago police killing of Adam Toledo during a bail hearing for the man who allegedly handed a firearm to the 13-year-old moments before he was shot.

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, totally vindicated, and his supervisor, Jennifer Coleman, was forced out.

Murphy personally handled many of the office’s most serious bond hearings and grand jury matters-murders, rapes, shootings. After one such bond hearing in May 2021, not long after Murphy returned from leave, a private defense attorney made an on-the-record, in-court statement.

“It’s a pleasure to do a case with [Murphy] again, as it’s always, always been,” lawyer David Gaeger said.

“Absolutely, I agree,” Judge John Lyke replied from the bench.

Other judges and attorneys apparently agree with Lyke and Gaeger. The ISBA review states:

Mr. James V. Murphy II has been licensed since 1997. He was a career prosecutor in the Cook County State’s Attorney office until resigning in 2022 to join Grace and Thompson, handling criminal defense, administrative law, and some civil law. As a prosecutor he served in several supervisory positions, most recently as supervisor of Preliminary Hearings, Central Bond Court, Grand Jury, and Branch 66 Homicide/Sex Units. He has extensive criminal jury and bench trial experience. He has been a presenter on legal issues and a past member of the Judicial Evaluation Committee for the Chicago Bar Association.

Attorneys and judges gave all positive comments about his legal knowledge and ability, stating that he is always prepared and knows the law, and is an excellent attorney. They reported that he is respectful, fair and even-tempered.

Mr. Murphy is considered to have good legal ability with an extensive litigation experience as a prosecutor. ISBA finds James V. Murphy qualified to be elected to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Murphy resigned from the state’s attorney’s office in July 2022, riding out with a final victory in a murder case that went to a jury trial. He penned a goodbye email, first reported by CWBChicago, that quickly spread across news outlets nationwide.

“This was my dream job. Like each of you, I came here to do good. To represent victims of crime and their families. To be a voice for the voiceless. To do the right thing. To do justice. Those aren’t merely words, they are a way of life,” Murphy wrote before turning to his reasons for leaving.

“This Administration is more concerned with political narratives and agendas than with victims and prosecuting violent crime,” Murphy claimed. “That is why I can’t stay any longer.”

He is currently working in private practice at Grace & Thompson.

Like Lanier, Murphy’s challenger, Liam Kelly, was also found not qualified for a judgeship by ISBA. Earlier this year, Kelly released this campaign video, which has since been removed.

The ISBA’s full review of Kelly states:

Mr. Liam Kelly was admitted to the Illinois bar in 2011. After working with several criminal defense firms, including over the past few years with the Law Offices of Robert Rascia, in January 2024 he joined the Office of the State Appellate Defender as an Assistant Appellate Attorney. He has served on the Scholarship Gala Committee for the Diversity Scholarship Foundation, with the mentor program of the Asian American Bar Association, and as president of the 39th Ward Democratic Organization.

Attorneys contacted during the investigation spoke positively of his temperament and sensitivity; most described his legal knowledge as adequate, though concerns were raised over his lack of experience as a lead attorney with jury trials and complex litigation, and some criticized his overall analytical ability and limited practice and experience. ISBA finds Liam Kelly not qualified to be elected to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

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