Eileen O’Neill Burke

Candidate for Cook County State's Attorney

Candidate Q&A

Why do you want to be Cook County State's Attorney?

Our criminal justice system is not working for this community that I love. As a former prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, and judge, I have spent more than thirty years seeking justice for the people of Cook County from every corner of the courtroom. I believe that my experience, sound judgment, and record of fairness can make things better at a critical time.

The State’s Attorney has a heavy responsibility to vigorously prosecute cases and seek justice for victims, their families, and the people of Cook County while respecting the rule of law and the civil rights of the accused. That requires not only tackling violent crime but also a thoughtful approach to restorative justice.

We don’t have to choose between safety or justice. We can have both with the right leadership. Above all, I know that no State’s Attorney can be successful without earning the trust of the public. I will lead an office with the highest standards of professionalism, and I look forward to sharing my vision with voters to make the office of the Cook County State’s Attorney one of the best prosecutor’s offices in the country.

Why do you believe you are the most qualified candidate?

I have a background that demonstrates experience at all levels of the criminal justice system and a record proving I am not afraid to take on the tough fights when it matters most.

I was one of the first prosecutors to take on the Catholic church for covering up its sexual assault allegations, in a case that spanned decades, and continued to fight for justice despite numerous setbacks to put child predators in jail. I’m also the only candidate in this race to have served as an Assistant State’s Attorney for ten years, a criminal defense attorney for years, and a judge at both the circuit and appellate level for the last 15 years.

Do you think the Cook County State's Attorney’s Office is currently working well, or will you make major changes to the office? Why?

No, it’s not working for victims, defendants, advocates, or citizens in general and I think that has contributed greatly to the tremendous attrition rate the office is facing right now.

I want to reshape the office so that it is recruiting lawyers from all over the country to work in an innovative office that tackles violent crime and works to combat the root causes of crime like poverty and historic disinvestment in communities through a newly fashioned restorative justice bureau. To reduce recidivism for both adults and juveniles, we must take a thoughtful approach to restorative justice in juvenile, veterans, drug, and mental health courts, where many repeat offenders come from. By combining these courts, attorneys in our office will interact with government agencies to find solutions that work for getting people on track.

How do you plan to recruit and retain high-quality prosecutors in light of recent high rates of turnover within the office?

I want to transform the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office into a leading example for the rest of the country on how to train trial attorneys. There will be an enormous opportunity to work with government agencies of all stripes and use that access to make a difference in people’s lives so they don’t return to a life of crime. Our prosecutors will be the best trained lawyers in the nation and that kind of legal work is a prominent selling point for future employment. I will also make sure that prosecutors know if they join up with the State’s Attorney’s office, they will have a strong leadership team that is invested in their success.

Robberies and thefts are on the rise including carjackings, and car thefts which are up 233% compared with 2019, according to CPD statistics. Does the CCSAO do a good job prosecuting those crimes? Why or why not?

There is no question that what we’re doing right now is not working and the evidence is all around us. Attorneys have left the State’s Attorney’s Office in droves. The relationship between the Chicago Police and the State’s Attorney’s Office is frayed. We have to do better.

With an approach that bifucates the work of prosecuting crime into a Restorative Justice Bureau focused on non-violent crime and a felony trial division that focuses on violent crime, we’ll turn what is happening in Cook County around. I will also make sure that I’m working constructively with regional governments, private entities, and advocates to deploy the best strategies to address this surge in crime. We must have a laser focus on getting the office properly staffed so that there is adequate personnel to handle this surge and implement solutions.

Do you support the elimination of cash bail included in the state’s new SAFE-T Act?

Yes, The Safety Act fundamentally changes how we determine whether someone should be detained pre-trial. Rather than setting a higher bond based on the seriousness of the offense, we now focus on whether someone is a danger to the community or not. Wealth should not determine whether or not one is held pretrial. In the old system, a wealthy drug dealer could be released on bond while a non violent offender with little means sat behind bars waiting for trial. That wasn’t fair and this change simply allows judges and attorneys to use a set of common sense tools to determine if a defendant is a danger to their community and should be held before trial to protect others.

Does the elimination of cash bail send a signal that Illinois is soft on crime?

No, If it is implemented correctly, the SAFE-T act is a step forward in making our justice system more equitable and fair. It requires the State’s Attorney to file a petition to detain each time. If the petition is not filed, it does not matter what the offense is, the judge has no authority to detain. The power of the State’s Attorney has been exponentially expanded to in effect make the State’s attorney the gate keeper of Pre-trial detention. It has become more important than ever that the State’s Attorney has the knowledge and experience to implement criteria for detention, as well as training for those in bond court.

What, if any, part of the state’s SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform needs reworking?

We have just implemented the SAFE-T act this past fall and it’ll take some time before suggested changes materialize based on the data.

Will you continue Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s current felony prosecution policy for shoplifting cases (stolen goods must be worth at least $1,000 or a defendant must have 10 prior convictions)?

No, As a prosecutor, my job is to prosecute based on the law. I believe the legislature should address questions of public policy and prosecutorial discretion should be used in select cases where the facts dictate it. That doesn’t mean that everyone charged with retail theft deserves to be incarcerated, but there does need to be a consequence for organized gangs committing mass robberies.

If a police officer is a member of a known hate-or-extremist group such as the Proud Boys, should they be barred from testifying in court?

Yes, Any member of an extremist group from the left or the right that advocates violence against institutions or people should not have a position of authority over other people. Maintaining impartiality in legal proceedings is essential to guarantee a fair and equitable system. If a police officer, entrusted with enforcing the law, testified while associated with a hate group, it diminishes that officer’s credibility in the eyes of the jury. It is imperative to strike a delicate equilibrium between individual rights and societal trust to preserve the integrity of the legal system and uphold the fundamental principles of justice.

If a police officer has been brought up on charges of misconduct numerous times, should they be barred from testifying in court after a certain number of complaints?

Again, if an officer’s participation in a trial repeatedly results in a lack of trust from the jury, then it makes it harder to secure a conviction on behalf of the victims. A history marked by misconduct diminishes the officer’s reliability, casting doubt on the truthfulness of their statements.

Will you prosecute people who do not register their assault weapons which is required after the Protect Illinois Communities Act passed and was signed into law?

Yes, As a prosecutor, my job is to prosecute based on the law.

What is your biggest goal if you are elected to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office?

I want our residents to be safe and I want our system to be just. Having defended the rights of a young black man falsely accused of a gun crime, prosecuted the Catholic Church for abusing children, and ruled on thousands of cases. I have seen the criminal justice system from all angles. I know what’s effective and what we’re doing right now is not it.

So, I strongly believe that we can rebuild the State’s Attorney’s Office after it has broken down after the stresses of the past four years. A well-constructed Restorative Justice Bureau will attract a new type of Attorney and that will free up resources for the felony prosecutors to go after the gun crimes in our region. I’ll have the best ethics and education curriculum in the country so that attorneys will flock to this office because it will make you a great lawyer. If we pair this approach with investments in what communities lack, that contribute to the root causes of crime - economic development, great educational opportunities, youth enrichment programs - then we can achieve this vision of a safe and just Cook County.