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Cook County prosecutor denies misconduct
Attorney stands accused before disciplinary commission

Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Chicago Tribune
by Becky Schlikerman

Veteran Cook County prosecutor Laura Morask is used to being the one firing questions at those on the witness stand, but now she finds herself on the hot seat.

On Monday, Morask took the stand in her defense, accused of professional misconduct by the state agency that disciplines lawyers.

At the hearing at the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) offices, Morask, a supervisor at Branch 44 felony court on the city's West Side, denied wrongdoing. She has been accused of delivering inflammatory and sarcastic closing arguments at three trials years ago and lying during a run for judge in 2008 by mischaracterizing an earlier disciplinary matter.

Morask, a prosecutor for 24 years, was matter-of-fact as she disputed the allegations, but near the end of her testimony Monday, she grew emotional as she talked about her disappointment after two earlier convictions of hers were reversed because of comments on her part.

"It's the worst thing in the world to have a case reversed because of something you did," she said as she wiped tears from her face.

Morask is one of a relative few prosecutors in Illinois over the last three decades to be accused of professional misconduct, according to ARDC records.

A panel of three volunteers two lawyers and one member of the public will make a recommendation whether Morask violated professional standards. If they find fault with Morask, the Illinois Supreme Court would ultimately decide on punishment, if any. She could face sanctions ranging from just a reprimand to the loss of her law license.

Morask had some legal heavyweights speaking out on her behalf at the hearing Monday.

"Laura's reputation is one [of] truthfulness and veracity," former Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine told the panel. "I believe she has done an excellent job."

"She is a role model to [young] assistant state attorneys," added Criminal Court Judge Kenneth Wadas. "Her reputation is sterling."

This isn't the first time that the ARDC has considered disciplinary action against Morask. In 2006 she was admonished by the agency for her closing arguments during several trials in the late 1990s, but that was never made public.

In October 2008 during Morask's run for judge, a local bar association found her not qualified because of numerous Appellate Court decisions that had been critical of Morask's conduct as a prosecutor.

When a local legal blogger posted a link to the bar association's findings, Morask emailed the blogger complaining that the review was misleading and dishonest. She went on to claim she "had a full and complete hearing in the ARDC ... and was completely cleared."

Morask, though, knew those statements weren't true and was trying to influence the election, ARDC attorney Melissa Smart told the panel Monday.

But Morask maintained she simply misspoke.

She also denied the accusations that she used sarcastic and inflammatory language in closing arguments at three additional criminal trials.

In one trial, Morask had railed on behalf of a rape victim who had difficulty identifying the defendant.

"It's really difficult to be a rape victim now," the complaint quoted Morask as saying at the trial. "Hold on a minute, Mr. Rapist, I know you're about to plunge your penis in me, but I think I need to take a picture of you so that I won't get blamed in court later for forgetting anything."

On Monday, Morask defended her tactics.

"It's to draw a point," she told the panel. "It's totally in the heat of the moment."

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