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A longtime prosecutor who resigned last week told the Tribune on Tuesday he stands by a letter he penned faulting Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s administration for deep-seated issues in the office.
James Murphy was just one of the latest in a growing number of high-ranking prosecutors to leave one of the nation’s busiest state’s attorney’s offices.
A supervisor in the state’s attorney’s unit overseeing the early stages of murders and other serious cases, Murphy was often the face of the office’s most noteworthy felony cases, publicly recounting them in bond court and handling many through the process.
Since the letter was first reported by the crime website CWBChicago and later confirmed by the Tribune, Murphy’s departure has raised eyebrows as one of the rare examples of a departing prosecutor openly criticizing Foxx’s leadership, though it never mentions her by name.
Murphy’s resignation came four days after a Tribune story detailing high turnover and rock-bottom morale in Foxx’s second term, including a growing list of high-ranking attorneys. Roughly one-third of assistant state’s attorney spots have been vacated and refilled from January 2020 to June of this year, according to official figures.
Academics have noted a recent backlash against so-called progressive prosecutors across the country who have embraced reform platforms during a national increase in homicides and shootings in major cities such as Chicago. Last month, The New York Times noted that Foxx was one of three liberal prosecutors reelected to second terms despite a rise in homicides.
Murphy’s letter represents one of the first public rebukes of Foxx’s leadership as resignations continue.
“This administration routinely claims that they have shifted their focus from prosecuting low level crimes so that they can focus their resources on fighting violent crime and drivers of violence. This is simply not true,” Murphy wrote in an email titled “Good Bye” that was sent to dozens of prosecutors Friday.
“If this administration was truly concerned with effectively fighting violent crime, then they would fully staff those courtrooms and units. Not create more useless policy positions on the executive staff at the expense of hiring more (assistant state’s attorneys) who can work in the trenches.”
“I wish I could stay. I would love to continue to fight for the victims of crime and to continue to stand with each of you, especially in the face of the overwhelming crime that is crippling our communities,” Murphy wrote. “However, I can no longer work for this administration. I have zero confidence in their leadership.” He later added: “This administration is more concerned with political narratives and agendas than with victims and prosecuting violent crime. That is why I can’t stay any longer.”
During a telephone interview with the Tribune on Tuesday, he stood by his strongly worded letter to fellow supervisors and subordinates that he helped train and continued to not refer directly to Foxx by name.
“That portion of the letter speaks for itself. I just didn’t have confidence in the administration’s leadership, that being the executive level of the administration,” Murphy said.
Murphy insisted his letter was more of a show of support for his prosecutors in addition to being an explanation for his retirement. He said rank and file prosecutors haven’t received the appreciation they deserve for their work despite continuously heavy caseloads.
“I don’t want this to be about me,” Murphy said. “Everybody’s head is down and I just wanted to help people keep their heads up (and let them know) what you do matters.”
Just since Murphy’s surprise resignation last Friday, another veteran prosecutor, Ted Lagerwall, gave notice of his resignation effective Monday. In his formal resignation to Foxx, Lagerwall, a supervisor at the Bridgeview Courthouse who helped prosecutors clear nine unsolved murders in south suburban Harvey, thanked her and spoke of his finest moments with the office.
But Murphy’s resignation continued to resonate even with the defense bar.
His departure means “a whole hell of a lot of integrity and institutional knowledge that’s walking away from the office,” said longtime defense attorney and former public defender supervisor, Kulmeet “Bob” Galhotra, who faced Murphy in court a handful of times over the last 15 years.
Galhotra, now in private practice, said the state’s attorney’s action against Murphy and his supervisor related to the Adam Toledo case worsened morale in the office.
In April 2021, Murphy was put on leave after Foxx’s office suggested that his wording in a court proffer connected to the shooting death of 13-year-old Adam Toledo by a Chicago police officer was misleading. But Murphy was brought back to duty after an internal investigation found that he hadn’t been purposefully loose with the facts.
Foxx’s second in command, First Assistant Jennifer Coleman, then resigned after an internal investigation found that she hadn’t reviewed the proffer.
“The checks and balances that should have been in place for someone to be able to review, to ensure that what was being said in court aligned with the information that the office had, it didn’t work,” Foxx told the Tribune in an interview.
“I think Jim unfortunately got hung out to dry on that,” Galhotra said. “I think Jennifer Coleman paid the price for it, but then ultimately, what it did was it led to a complete evisceration of morale at that office. Not that it wasn’t headed that way to begin with.”
Murphy said the Toledo case had very little to do with his resignation, but said it was an example of “political whims” and leadership not having his back. “Probably not much,” he said of its impact on his choice. “I’m not going to lie — my feelings were hurt on that. It’s just the stupidity of everything. None of that had to happen.”
In a statement to the Tribune late Tuesday , Foxx’s office echoed comments she recently made in an online newsletter to her attorneys, calling her office “a premiere employment opportunity for aspiring prosecutors seeking to make meaningful change in one of the largest and most complex court systems in the country,” despite the turnover. The statement said Foxx’s office has made hiring strides, including 91 legal hires this year alone, along with 45 lateral hires and 25 more in the pipeline. The statement doesn’t mention Murphy.
Murphy, 50, who grew up in the city’s Sauganash neighborhood and graduated from Loyola Academy, said he hasn’t decided what his next chapter will be, saying his first priority was to “de-stress and relax” with his children. “After that I’m not sure. I can go make a difference in some way. I’m not exactly sure right now, but something will come,” Murphy said.
“I know it’s tough times right now, but I love this town,” he said. “This is where I was born and raised. I love the good, the bad, I love it all.”
Chicago Tribune’s Megan Crepeau contributed.