An attorney who helped fund Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s 2016 campaign will be allowed to continue as the special prosecutor investigating Foxx’s handling of the case against former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
Judge Michael Toomin ruled Friday afternoon that attorney Dan K. Webb’s donation to Foxx “has no effect on his ability to be fair and impartial.”
“There’s no indication that he harbors any bias,” Toomin said during a brief hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building.
Retired Illinois Appellate Court Judge Sheila O’Brien, who filed an April petition requesting the special prosecutor’s investigation, argued in the hearing that Webb’s political support for Foxx could appear to the public as a conflict of interest.
“We do not want this investigation to have a cloud over it,” O’Brien said.
Assistant State’s Attorney Cathy McNeil Stein appeared at the hearing and voiced similar concerns about public perceptions but neither O’Brien nor Foxx’s office brought a formal motion asking for Webb’s removal from the probe.
O’Brien sought the investigation after the abrupt dismissal by Foxx’s office of charges against Smollett.
The star had reported being the target of a racist and homophobic assault but was later charged with faking the attack and lying to police about it.
The bizarre case, combined with Smollett’s star power, created a media frenzy. Foxx’s handling of the case led to an outcry that Smollett had gotten special treatment.
Suburban police chiefs and the union that represents rank-and-file Chicago cops seized on the controversy and called on Foxx, a criminal-justice reformer, to resign.
Webb, who is investigating the imbroglio, revealed Monday he had co-hosted a political fundraiser for Foxx at his powerful law firm and contributed $1,000 himself to her campaign.
Webb, co-chairman of Winston & Strawn, filed a two-page declaration in Cook County criminal court that says, when he was appointed to the Smollett case six weeks ago, he “had no recollection” of making the donation or attending the fundraiser.
The fundraiser took place October 13, 2016, seven months after Foxx defeated incumbent Anita Alvarez in the Democratic primary for state’s attorney and weeks before Foxx coasted to victory in the November general election.
Webb, a Republican, attributed his role in the event to his law firm partner Kimball Anderson. Webb’s declaration calls Anderson a Foxx political supporter who organized the fundraiser at Foxx’s request.
“To show support for my partners, I almost always contribute to the political fundraisers they are sponsoring at the firm, unless I have some specific reason why I do not want to support the candidate,” Webb wrote in the declaration.
Toomin appointed Webb as special prosecutor to look into why Foxx’s office dropped the charges.
If Webb had disclosed his Foxx contribution before Toomin made him the special prosecutor, the judge said, “it would have had no effect on my appointment of him.”