As we move into the New Year with a fresh outlook on life, positive affirmations and personal resolutions, political candidates have begun to put their campaigns in high gear for the Illinois March primary elections. One of the most highly anticipated political races is for the Cook County State’s Attorney Office, in which incumbent Anita Alvarez is being challenged by candidates Kim Foxx and Donna More.
After the release of the dashcam video in November of Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times by police officer James Van Dyke, public outrage was heightened. The stalling tactics of Anita Alvarez’s office in bringing charges 400 days after the 2014 incident was just another example of the long history of the office sweeping police misconduct under the rug.
The persistent demand for Alvarez’s resignation has shined a spotlight on candidates Kim Foxx, former Chief of Staff to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and Donna More, a managing partner for the law firm Fox Rothschild. Since both candidates announced their run for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s seat over the summer, things have heated up dramatically with the release of the McDonald tape. Now each candidate is building momentum, with considerable financial and community support, to give Alvarez a run for her money.
In September, the Chicago Defender sat down and spoke with Foxx about her bid for the State’s Attorney’s office. We recently had an opportunity to do the same with Donna More and spoke to her about her candidacy, criminal justice reform and her familiarity with the legal system.
More is a native of Evanston, where she attended Evanston Township High School before moving on to Boston’s Tufts University and majoring in history. She came back home to Northwestern University to receive her master’s degree in political science and acquired her law degree from Georgetown. Influenced by her father, she took a detour from being a professor and followed his footsteps in becoming a lawyer.
“I grew up seeing him handling calls and cases,” More said. “As a sole practitioner, he would from time to time help one of his clients or their kids if they had a criminal problem. I saw my dad argue a case and give a voice to someone who didn’t have one. I just became enthralled with the whole thing.” Her first job out of law school was working at the Cook County State’s Attorney Office. She worked in the Appeals Division and eventually became the Supervisor in Appeals.
As a young attorney, she was asked by then State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley to work on special projects in the Financial Crimes investigation office. After a couple of years, she was promoted to work as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District in the Criminal Division. After working as a prosecutor for almost 8 years, More had tried countless bench trials and one day received a call from a colleague urging her to consider a career move to the Illinois Gaming Board.
“I got a call from a former first assistant, Bill Conklin. They had just passed riverboat gambling. I was asked to come over to be the first General Counsel for the state agency. I went over and at that point in time, there was only Nevada and New Jersey,” More explained. “I had to learn the substance so that I could write the rules and regulations. I made sure it was clean and made sure the bad guys stayed out. We put 10 boats in the water, along with putting in disciplinary procedures. They’ve added to the rules, but they are still in place today.”
For five years as General Counsel for the Illinois Gaming Board, More felt her time putting in policy and regulations for the gaming industry also contributed to about $1 billion in tax revenue and approximately 15,000 jobs for the state. Although there was a great deal accomplished during her time on the Gaming Board, she transitioned into private law practice, representing clients within the gaming, banking and medical marijuana industry.
“I’ve also done some pro bono work, where I’ve helped three young men who each has had a brush with the law when they were younger. They’ve really turned their life around, yet they couldn’t get a job because of a felony conviction,” More says.
“One case I’ve worked on for 15 years. I’m not talking about a serious crime. I’m talking about a retail theft for over $300 when he was 15 years old or something similar. I believed in these young men and their abilities to change their lives around. One is graduating this June with a double major in mathematics and physics.” She reflects on how working with these kinds of cases has helped her focused on the bigger picture. “It has taught me a lot about reform, and about second chances,” More says. “It’s not something you get to do when all you’ve done is be a prosecutor. It’s given me a lot of perspective. That’s what I’ll bring to the office.”
On The Current Leadership
The Cook County Department of Corrections has approximately 89 percent Black and Hispanic inmates occupying the facility, with many cases stemming from low-level offense cases.
On her plans to rectify this, More says, “First of all, I think that you must have the leadership at the top of the office. I don’t think that we’ve had leadership in any shape or form. There are prosecutions that you hear of anecdotally where in the city you might have a young man and it’s a low-level possession case. In the city, the young man gets a conviction and now he’s part of our criminal justice system.
In the suburbs, they call the mother or father at the police station and they come and pick up their kids.” With the level of non-transparency that has taken place over the years in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Defender asked if she had come across John Burge cases during the time she worked for then State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley.
At the time, More was new as a young attorney and she explained, “I didn’t have any cases either on appeal or at the trial level where Burge was the detective. I think the bulk of those cases were going through the system before I went to 26th and California. I didn’t have any experience with them.”
She also says there was a different method and skill set that was required when she was working in the felony trial courtroom, which is not always being practiced in the current system.
“The incumbent talks about meticulous prosecution,” More says. “In her office, it’s an oxymoron. You need to inspire, you need to give encouragement to get the best prosecution. Part of that is giving the assistants discretion in a courtroom.”
More and her husband have come under scrutiny for donating $2,500 to the Bruce Rauner for governor campaign. She stands firm on her belief at the time that change was needed, but admits that she was wary with that decision. She also has made it very clear that the couple also made contributions to President Barack Obama and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s campaigns. “As Democrats we always have to make sure we have good choices,” More said.
“I wanted to see things I wanted to hope that maybe with some different faces, we would get more cooperation. That didn’t happen. I’m certainly not defined by one thing. No more than we’re defined as women, or African-American women or White women. I view this as a label.”
Improving Race Relations
Chicago is currently under the microscope when it comes to our critical breakdown in race relations and mistrust between the Black community and the police as well as a broken criminal justice system. More witnessed firsthand the turn out of activism and outrage when she went out to the Black Friday march in protest of the Laquan McDonald murder.
“I was happy that it was a peaceful protest because had there been violence it would’ve taken away from the message,” she said. “I think it’s unfortunate that to get the people in our county riled up about violence you have to do something as dramatic as to say, ‘Listen, people ought to be concerned about this daily.’ “But it encouraged me that people were demonstrating in what they believed in and the economic impact to this city made people sit up and take notice. If I were Cook County State’s Attorney, we would’ve charged that case back at the end of November 2014. We would’ve been in a courtroom right now.”
More is married to public relations executive Hud Englehart, and they reside in Lincoln Park with their 11-year-old daughter. She sits on the Adler Women’s Board, where she works with young girls from around the city encouraging them to participate and learn science, math and physics in the STEM program. Her time also includes the Chicago Jesuit Academy on the West Side, a preparatory school that works with young male students from fourth to eighth grades.
More understands that it will be gradual process in building solid relationships within the Black community and gaining trust. She’s met with various community groups, churches, and has talked with families that have been affected by crime, including parents of murdered victims.
“I take an activist view on what the State’s Attorney office must be willing to do because you have to use your office and your power for good. It’s not just about crime; you can do a lot of other good things in the community,” she says.