Kimberly M. Foxx is the current state’s attorney of Cook County, which is the most populous county in Illinois and includes the nation’s third-largest city, Chicago. The state’s attorney job is an elective office in which Foxx is the county’s chief prosecutor. Serving since December 1, 2016, she is the first African American woman to hold this office in Cook County.
The Cook County state’s attorney’s office says it is the second-largest prosecutor’s office in the United States.1
1 Cook County State’s Attorney, About, Kimberly M. Foxx.
The duties of a state's attorney are mandated by Chapter 55 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes.1 The state’s attorney represents the state and prosecutes all legal actions and lawsuits in which the state may be involved. This includes both civil and criminal cases.2 For instance, in a case involving fraud or money laundering, the state would bring a criminal action against the defendant in the case.
The state is a party to all criminal cases brought under state law. For instance, if Suspect A allegedly murders Victim B, the family of Victim B cannot bring a criminal action against Suspect A. It is the state’s attorney’s office that will prosecute Suspect A under state law, and the state’s attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Suspect A committed the crime. The family of Victim B, however, may sue Suspect A in a civil action, such as a wrongful death claim, to obtain monetary damages.
The term “state’s” attorney can be misleading. While it is possible that a state’s attorney will be involved in proceedings that the state of Illinois is a party to, it is the Illinois attorney general who handles litigation for the state. Generally, the state’s attorney of each county is responsible only for lawsuits, prosecutions, and legal matters within his or her own county.
However, there are situations in which both the attorney general and the state's attorney have jurisdiction over a case. For instance, in October 2018, both Attorney General Lisa Madigan and DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin filed a complaint in state court against Sterigenics after federal regulators found that its sterilization plant in Willowbrook, Illinois, produced dangerous levels of a toxic chemical known to increase the risk of cancer.3
The state’s attorney’s office in Cook County consists of over 700 attorneys.4 The state’s attorney seldom goes to court, relying on subordinates — typically the first assistant state’s attorney or the first assistant chief deputy — to handle cases before judges. But the state’s attorney may go to court if he or she chooses. Primarily, the state’s attorney runs the office and sets the policies and rules for it. The state’s attorney signs off on the more sensitive decisions made by the office on civil and criminal cases.
The state’s attorney’s office in Cook County consists of the following subdivisions:
- Criminal Prosecutions Bureau
- Juvenile Justice Bureau
- Civil Actions Bureau
- Narcotics Bureau
- Special Prosecutions Bureau
- Administrative Services Bureau
- Investigations Bureau
2 55 ILCS 5/3-9005(a)(1). The duty of each State's attorney shall be… “To commence and prosecute all actions, suits, indictments and prosecutions, civil and criminal, in the circuit court for his county, in which the people of the State or county may be concerned.”
3 Michael Hawthorne, Citing cancer risks, Lisa Madigan, DuPage prosecutor urge court to shut down Sterigenics in Willowbrook, Chicago Tribune, (Oct 30, 2018).
4 Supra note 3.
The state’s attorney prosecutes both criminal and civil cases.
Criminal prosecutions by the state’s attorney include cases involving:
- Misdemeanor and felony crimes
- Narcotics cases
- Child protection and delinquency
- Consumer protection
- Sexual assault and domestic violence
Civil prosecutions by the state’s attorney includes cases involving1 :
- Complex litigation
- Labor and employment
- Torts and civil rights
- Industrial claims
- Revenue recovery
- Municipal litigation
- Health law
In addition, the state’s attorney’s office is responsible for recovering all debts, revenues, and fine penalties that individuals in the county owe to the state or the county. The office also collects any pending fines or debts owed by individuals to a school district or road district that falls in the state’s attorney’s county.
While the state’s attorney prosecutes on behalf of his or her county, he or she also defends in proceedings brought against county officials. 2
1 Cook County State’s Attorney, Civil Action Bureau.
2 55 ILCS 5/3-9005 from Ch. 34, par. 3-9005, Sec. 3-9005. Powers and duties of State's Attorney.
When police make an arrest and believe a felony charge is warranted, they take the case to the Felony Review Office at the state’s attorney’s office. The police do not have the authority to file felony charges. That determination lies with the state’s attorney — and this is where the state’s attorney often enters the criminal justice process.
At the Felony Review Office, the state’s attorney’s staff will gather information from the police, including all evidentiary reports, and conduct their own independent review of the case.
However, if the state’s attorney’s office declines to prosecute or rejects the felony charges brought by the police, the police can still file misdemeanor charges. At this point, formal charges are initiated in a court through a document called an “information.” The filing of misdemeanor charges still requires that a preliminary hearing be held before a judge to determine whether probable cause exists.
While the state’s attorney’s office investigates cases after police bring allegations to them, it also launches its own investigations — which could take years. If the state’s attorney believes he or she has enough evidence to prosecute a suspect, they may take one of two actions: seek a grand jury indictment or take the case to a judge at a probable cause hearing.
If a grand jury or judge finds probable cause that a suspect committed a crime, an arrest warrant may be issued. After an arrest, the defendant will have a bond hearing, an arraignment and — based on whether he or she pleads guilty to the charges — a trial or sentencing hearing.