Foxx’s top aide, hoping to become a judge, loses badly

Risa Lanier and James Murphy (risalanier.com, Facebook)

CHICAGO — We still don’t know who won the Democratic race for Cook County State’s Attorney, with less than 10,000 votes separating the two candidates and plenty of mail-in ballots awaiting counting. It could be a day or more before the winner is declared.

Some consider the race between former appellate court Justice Eileen O’Neill Burke and law school lecturer and corporate lobbyist Clayton Harris to be a referendum on the county’s current top prosecutor, Kim Foxx. Harris, the hand-picked, machine-backed candidate, promises to continue Foxx’s progressive policies, while O’Neill Burke has said she’ll take a more traditional approach to the job.

But a couple of other races with links to Foxx did not go the way she may have hoped. Her highest-ranking aide, running for a judgeship, lost in a landslide. And a former supervising prosecutor who blasted Foxx’s policies in a resignation letter two years ago handily beat Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s favored candidate in another judicial race.

First Assistant State’s Attorney Risa Renee Lanier, who infamously handled the Jussie Smollett confidential plea deal for Foxx’s office, was trounced by personal injury attorney Bridget Colleen Duignan in the race for the 19th Subcircuit vacancy. The election results show Duignan received nearly 57% of votes in the city, as Lanier limped along in third place with 17.5%

Despite Lanier’s high-ranking post and decades of experience, she failed to win recommendations from some bar associations. The Illinois State Bar Association said it found Lanier “not qualified” 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.”

Meanwhile, James V. Murphy, a veteran prosecutor and supervisor who blasted Foxx in a written farewell letter two years ago, sailed to an easy victory in the 10th Subcircuit. His opponent, Liam Kelly, also failed to receive some bar association endorsements. The Democratic Party didn’t include Kelly on their candidate slate, but Preckwinkle personally endorsed him, according to his campaign website.

When Murphy left the state’s attorney’s office in July 2022, he praised his fellow prosecutors and encouraged them to continue fighting for crime victims. But he said he had to leave because “this Administration is more concerned with political narratives and agendas than with victims and prosecuting violent crime.”

Taking to Facebook after his Tuesday night victory, Murphy said becoming a judge had been a dream of his since childhood:

My dad was sworn in as a Cook County Judge when I was in 7th grade. I used to go with him to Maywood where he was assigned and watch him on the bench. It has been a dream of mine since then to follow in his footsteps. I was sworn in as an attorney in 1997. After today’s election, I will be able to follow in his footsteps as a Cook County Judge. I can’t begin to thank you all for the help and support you have given me over the course of the campaign. There are too many people to thank here, I will be reaching out to thank everybody individually. Thank you all!

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