Thursday, September 18, 2008

Who is Anita Alvarez? A wannabee friend of targets of criminal, federal investigations? A friend of Daley, Madigan and Burke? She’s their girl?

Revised significantly on Thursday at 2:50 pm
Yet, Alvarez is saying, no matter what the U. S. Attorney is saying about you, you can contribute to Alvarez and have a willing new friend, personal or not, in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. On hearing that, Daley, Madigan and Burke must have breathed a collective sigh of relief and said, “That’s our girl.”
Did taking the Singer money create a conflict of interest for Alvarez?

Another Reporter: Why did you accept a political donation, albeit small, from Bill Singer, who has been publicly identified in a federal trial as a target of a criminal, federal investigations? [See here].

Cook County State’s Attorney Candidate Anita Alvarez (D): Okay, I don’t know Mr. Singer, personally, and I’ve accepted a small donation. I don’t believe he’s convicted of anything. As far as I know, he’s not. And, I haven’t violated any ethics ordinance, by doing so.

Jeff Berkowitz: So, if somebody is subject to an investigation by the U. S. attorney, but not convicted of anything, it’s appropriate for you to accept a donation from him? is that right?

Cook County State’s Attorney Candidate Anita Alvarez (D); I am abiding by the County ordinances and I’m abiding, you know, by those rules and I don’t believe I’ve violated any of those.
Press Conference, September 16, 2008, following a debate sponsored by the Public Affairs office of the Union League Club of Chicago between Cook County State’s Attorney Democratic Nominee Anita Alvarez and Republican Nominee Tony Peraica. See here for an overview of the debate and pressers. Watch Alvarez interviewed here and Watch Peraica interviewed here.
Conflicts of interest 101

This reporter used to practice law at a large, loop, law firm, where one of the partners spent considerable time making sure the firm took no new matters where, to do so, would present a conflict of interest for the firm with one of its prior clients. Making such a determination started with a mechanical computerized comparison of the potential new client, and that new client’s adverse and third parties—to existing clients, and adverse and third parties in their matters, and so on and so forth. Once a possible conflict of interest for the firm was spotted, then the partner assigned to deal with conflicts spent considerable time applying complex case law, ethical canons and his judgment and wisdom to the situation at hand.

That conflicts partner would often state that he never met a partner, who stood to benefit directly from the new business, who could see a conflict with a potential new client. Of course, that was a bit of an exaggeration. But, the point was, new clients meant money in the pocket of the partner who brought in the client—and that meant that partner might not be the best person to make the decision about potential conflicts. Indeed, that’s why the firm had a conflict’s partner, who would be at least one step removed, so to speak, from the situation at hand, and therefore could make an objective judgment about whether the firm should accept the new client. Maybe Alvarez needs a conflicts adviser.

Alvarez and targets of criminal investigations

Anita Alvarez, who has never been in a law firm, is kind of like that partner with a new client. Only, for her, the new client is a new contributor, Bill Singer, who was said, for purposes of the question put to Alvarez, to be the target of a federal, criminal investigation. Alvarez raised no objection to the premise of the question put to her.

Alvarez and the Food Chain

Alvarez apparently does not want to turn away new contibutors. Partly, that is because the money enhances her chances of moving up the food chain in her, sort of, law firm, i.e., the Cook County State’s Attorney office. Alvarez has spent twently-two years climbing the ladder in the State’s Attorney office of nine hundred attorneys to No. 3, just behind First Assistant Bob Milan. She is on leave, now, for her run for State’s Attorney, but this is just a technicality. Alvarez’s climb to the top involves getting more votes on Nov. 4 than her opponent, Republican Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica.

The State’s Attorney office and Torture

Milan is the First Assistant to the twelve year-incumbent State’s Attorney, Dick Devine, who himself was First Assistant, in the early 80s, to then State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley, when certain members of the Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) found torture, a convenient, albeit illegal, tool, to help build their cases. For some reason, Daley and Devine never found the roots, breadth and depth of the torture in the CPD a very compelling topic—not then, not in the middle years and not recently—the topic was investigated to death, so to speak, by others—and finally the statute of limitations for prosecutions had run.

Alvarez—quiet on torture.

When asked about it now, Alvarez says she was just a junior attorney in the mid 80s and kind of the equivalent of a junior partner in the 90s, so never really in a position to ask or do much about the torture near her, or so she says or implies. In short, on torture, Alvarez must have appeared very, very good to Daley. When other Democratic candidates for State’s Attorney were raising concerns about Daley and torture, not a word from Alvarez.

Daley, Madigan and Burke for Alvarez

Putting aside the leave, Alvarez is still No. 3 in the State’s Attorney office. And, in a sense, she is No. 1. That is, the Mayor may not have officially supported Alvarez in the February, 2008, Democratic Primary. But, she won the 11th Ward, (Daley’s home ward), the 13th Ward (Speaker Mike Madigan’s home ward) and the 14th Ward (Ald. and Chicago City Council Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke’s home ward).

So, it might appear that in the hearts of Daley, Madigan and Burke, Alvarez is the object of their affection. Alvarez claims not to be “one of the boys." But the “boys,” seem to like her, notwithstanding Devine’s official endorsement of Milan, who finished a distant fifth of six candidates.

Alvarez: not a lot of intellectual curiosity

The important thing for Daley, Madigan and Burke is to have a State’s Attorney who is not too intellectually curious when it comes to history, whether it be torture, patronage or public corruption. All of that public corruption stuff, like the activities of Sorich, Tomczak, Hired Truck, etc., that has kept U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald busy, has never had much appeal for Devine, or any of his underlings, like Alvarez.

The amount of the contribution discussed above from Bill Singer is apparently small stuff ($500). Much more important is that Alvarez stated publicly that she sees nothing wrong with taking money from someone who is the target of a federal criminal investigation. Daley not doubt saw that and said, “That’s my girl.”

Obama-Rezko, a conflict of interest?

Think about it. Barack Obama said it was a “boneheaded move,” for him to involve himself in a housing transaction with a person, Tony Rezko, rumored at the time to be under investigation by the feds, when arguably Obama was receiving a favor from Rezko. As a U. S. Senator (not to mention as a President) Obama could have a substantial say in whether the U. S. Attorney was kept, or not—and who would replace him—something that might be of great interest to a person being investigated by that U. S. Attorney. A boneheaded move? I’ll say. At least, Obama regretted it.

Alvarez-Singer, a conflict of Interest?

Think about it. Anita Alvarez says there is no conflict of interest for her to knowingly accept money from a person “publicly identified in a federal trial as a target of a criminal, federal investigation.” Yes, what she said was
she had not “violated any ethics ordinance, by doing so.” But, then this reporter asked if, “it’s appropriate for you to accept [such] a donation.”
Yes, Alvarez answered in a narrow way: “I am abiding by the County ordinances and I’m abiding, you know, by those rules and I don’t believe I’ve violated any of those.” But, clearly, Alvarez implied that there was no conflict of interest.

However, there is one. Yes, it is doubtful Anita Alvarez would engage in such a conflict for a small sum of money. Even the most money hungry law firm partner wouldn’t take a case with a conflict to increase his income by, say, five hundred dollars. So, why did Alvarez accept the money from Singer? Maybe, she is “one of the boys.” That is, she won’t abandon her friends until they are convicted. You know, everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

Why does it become an issue for people potentially involved as government investigatory authorities to associate with people "under investigation." Because the odds that they may be called upon to exercise judgment about that investigation go up significantly when that person, such as Bill Singer, is identified in a trial as under investigation. If Anita Alvarez returns to the State's Attorney office as the State's Attorney, she might be called upon to decide how to pursue or follow-up on evidence pointing toward Singer in the matter the U. S. Attorney is pursuing. The U. S. Attorney might ask her office for help in the matter. How she responds could present a conflict of interest, if she has an association with Singer.

Yet, Alvarez is saying, no matter what the U. S. Attorney is saying about you, you can contribute to Alvarez and have a willing new friend, personal or not, in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. On hearing that, Daley, Madigan and Burke must have breathed a collective sigh of relief and said, “that’s our girl.”
Jeff Berkowitz is host and producer of “Public Affairs,” a weekly political interview show airing in the Chicago metro area and in Aurora on Comcast and on CANTV [Comcast or RCN] in Chicago-- and also often on the Illinois Channel . You can also watch the shows here and read Berkowitz’s commentary, analysis, reporting, partial transcripts and airing schedules of his Public Affairs show on this blog. Berkowitz, who reported from the Democratic Party Convention in Denver, Colorado and from the Republican Party Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota for the Chicago Daily Observer, is now filing supplemental Convention related columns with the CDO. You can contact Berkowitz at
Recently posted shows on the Public Affairs YouTube page now include recent shows featuring clips and interviews from the Democratic and Republican National Party conventions, with Cook County Cmsr. and Obama Media Team Member Forrest Claypool, State Senator Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) and State Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago), 8th CD Republican Nominee Steve Greenberg, our show with Senator Obama (D-IL), Gov. Sebelius (D-KS), DLC Chairman Harold Ford, Cong. Rahm Emanuel (D-Chicago), Attorney General Madigan, WTTW's Carol Marin, Real Clear Politics' Tom Bevan, Sun-Times Abdon Pallasch and much more.