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Editorial: The Foxx-Smollett questions for Inspector General Blanchard

Tuesday, April 16, 2019
Chicago Tribune
by Editorial Board

When the Tribune Editorial Board endorsed Kim Foxx for state’s attorneybefore the primary and general elections of 2016, we cited crucial skills for Cook County’s chief prosecutor. Among them: good judgment about law enforcement priorities and conduct, and frank, comfortable communication with the public.

Yet in 2019, the peculiar trajectory of Jussie Smollett’s criminal case has created public suspicions that Foxx and her subordinates have flouted those responsibilities: First Foxx’s prosecutors guide the case against the “Empire” actor, accused of concocting a hate crime, through a grand jury. Then, without warning or explanation, her office abandons 16 felony charges in a way that lets Smollett proclaim his innocence.

After we asked in a March 29 editorial if she would welcome an independent review of her, and her office’s, handling of the case, Foxx responded in a Tribune commentary that she would. She confirmed on Friday that she has asked Patrick Blanchard, the county’s inspector general, to conduct a review.

Separately, Illinois courts will rule on requests that a special prosecutor conduct a probe. One request comes from Sheila O’Brien, a retired Illinois Appellate Court justice. The point of such an inquiry, O’Brien wrote, should be to determine “the truth. The whole truth. Under oath.”

Amen to that. Our justice system relies on citizens trusting that it treats all citizens fairly and consistently. Pending the decision on a special prosecutor, Blanchard is up to bat. Among the questions that hover over Foxx and her staff:

  • Mr. Blanchard, do Chicagoans know all there is to know about outside efforts to influence how the state’s attorney guided this case? What prime mover motivated a politically connected lawyer, ostensibly acting on behalf of Smollett’s family, to contact Foxx? Just as important: Did anyone else contact Foxx? We hope you’ll cut through the public speculation on whether other outsiders got word to Foxx suggesting what the state’s attorney should do in Smollett’s case.
  • Why did the state’s attorney let Chicagoans believe for weeks that she had recused herself from the case when she evidently hadn’t? Is there a back story here?
  • Judge O’Brien’s request for a special prosecutor states that on March 26, when Foxx’s office dropped all charges against Smollett in court, “The case is not on the Court Clerk’s regular calendar. No notice was given to the Chicago Police Department nor the media. The Court file is sealed. The Clerk’s file is erased.” Mr. Blanchard, to whatever extent the state’s attorney’s office was complicit in this furtiveness, why so?
  • Also on March 26, First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats denied that dropping the charges signaled weak evidence or a desire for secrecy. “It’s a mistake and it’s wrong to read into the decision that there was something wrong or that we learned something about the case that we didn’t already know,” Magats told the Tribune. On March 27, Foxx told the Sun-Times: “I believe based on the information that was presented before the grand jury, based on what I’ve seen, the office had a strong case … that would have convinced a trier of fact.” Yet in her commentary delivered to the Tribune two days later, on March 29, Foxx wrote that while there was “considerable evidence ... suggesting that portions of Smollett’s claims may have been untrue,” other aspects of the evidence and testimony “would have made securing a conviction against Smollett uncertain.” What’s the truth here, Mr. Blanchard? Behind the scenes, what intervening variable provoked Foxx’s office to abandon the 16 felony charges?
  • Was whoever made the decision to take Smollett’s case before a grand jury the same person who later made the decision to drop all charges against him?
  • Why would Foxx’s office say the dropping of charges didn’t exonerate Smollett, yet permit him to walk without accepting responsibility for his alleged staging of a hate crime? Mr. Blanchard, can you find another case in which Foxx’s office dropped the prosecution of a defendant who allegedly filed a false police report without his or her admission of guilt?
  • On March 27, Foxx told WBEZ: “But every single day on cases that law enforcement partners work diligently on, there are people who get similar arrangements, people who get diversion, people who get sentences that are probably not what some people would want. Every single day.” Mr. Blanchard, how often do Cook County defendants facing 16 felony charges “get similar arrangements”?
  • As we asked in a headline on March 29: Did someone, somewhere, clout a sweet deal for Jussie Smollett? And if that happened, Mr. Blanchard, who persuaded whom to do so?

Again, Mr. Blanchard, the truth. The whole truth. Under oath.


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