Futterman and Tepfer on the Influence of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx

Kim Foxx Wants to Tell You a Story

Foxx has received accolades from some unexpected corners. “I’m walking juveniles and adults out of police stations uncharged,” says Cook County’s chief public defender, Amy Campanelli, a Preckwinkle nominee. She describes Foxx as “extremely approachable,” adding, “My lawyers fight her lawyers in court every day, but my first assistant calls her first assistant and we work it out.” Craig Futterman, the director of the Civil Rights and Police Accountability Project at the University of Chicago Law School, says the public defenders he talks to regularly at the Criminal Courts Building “have noticed a palpable difference in prosecutors being given discretion to do what they think is right … to dismiss charges that shouldn’t be brought in the first place or to reduce charges.”


Of all the issues Foxx is trying to address head-on, though, none comes with a more fraught history than the scourge of wrongful convictions that have beset the prosecutor’s office in recent years. Prior to stepping in front of the TV cameras at the Criminal Court Building in September to announce the exoneration of 18 people whose convictions had been linked to corrupt former Chicago cop Ronald Watts, Foxx had a private conversation with one of them. Clarissa Glenn, who, with her husband, was set up by Watts (she got probation; her husband went to prison), told Foxx before the press conference, “You know what no one has ever done? No one has apologized for what happened to us.” Foxx recalls the moment: “Her eyes were wide open, my eyes were welling up, and she said, ‘They took my husband from my children. Everyone’s here clapping and patting backs. Who’s ever going to apologize for what happened to us?’ Which is why I apologized that day.”

Joshua Tepfer, an attorney for the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School who represented many of Watts’s victims, remembers the encounter with similar clarity: “Kim Foxx showed up in court, shook my clients’ hands, apologized privately and publicly. I’ve been doing this work for 10 years, and that is really a special moment for me and my clients. She didn’t have to personally apologize. She wasn’t involved.” (The Watts-related convictions all occurred before Foxx took office.) To Tepfer, it’s a sea change. “She referred to the exonerated as ‘victims,’ and wished them healing and justice. … That was a deliberate and important choice of language.”

Still, many advocates are eager for even deeper reforms. The U. of C.’s Futterman, for one, still sees too much emphasis on winning at all costs and not enough on holding cops accountable for misconduct. “I think Foxx has made progress,” he says, “but it’s unfinished. It’s a tough job, and even tougher when you inherited an office with a culture of lack of police accountability and police abuse and wrongful arrest. That’s a lot to take on.”

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