The Cook County sheriff, Tom Dart, has earned a nickname among local prosecutors: Sheriff Schindler. The reason? Dart has “rescued” a good number of employees who either left their jobs in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office after Anita Alvarez won last February’s primary to be the county’s top prosecutor or were fired after she took office this year. Rumor had it that even before she was elected, Alvarez, who had been third in command in the office, was looking to shake up the staff, promising to place more women and minorities in top positions. Many of the 900 or so lawyers in the office also suspected that the top-level employees who had supported Alvarez’s defeated rival, first assistant state’s attorney Bob Milan, wouldn’t be around too long.
“I think all of them anticipated Anita Alvarez would make a lot of changes,” says a former prosecutor who is now in private practice.
Indeed, Alvarez has replaced nine of the top ten deputies and bureau chiefs in the state’s attorney’s office. Five of the new promotions are women.
Dart, who started his career as an assistant Cook County state’s attorney, plucked half a dozen people from his former office, landing lawyers with years of experience in DNA testing, gangs, and financial crimes. Some worked with Dart at the Markham courthouse in the 1980s. “Dart made out very, very well, talent-wise, and frankly, all those people probably took pay cuts,” the former prosecutor says.
Scott Cassidy, the former chief of special prosecutions, is now a special assistant to Dart, helping to create cold case and financial crimes units. Nancy Donahoe, a wing supervisor in the state’s attorney’s office, is now in the sheriff’s Office of Professional Review.
“We’ve gotten people with incredible resumés,” says Steve Patterson, a Dart spokesman. Robert Hovey, for example, a former DNA expert at the state’s attorney’s office, “was invaluable when the Burr Oak Cemetery issue arose,” says Patterson.
Mike Smith, the former deputy chief of special prosecutions, is now deputy chief of the sheriff’s police. Smith joined the sheriff’s office in March 2008, the month after Alvarez won the primary. “I knew that I was not in favor,” he says.
Not everyone ended up on Sheriff Schindler’s List. Bernie Murray, once the head of criminal prosecutions, is now an assistant state’s attorney in DuPage County. And Bob Egan, who helped convict John Wayne Gacy, was fired. Milan left for the U.S. attorney’s office two weeks after Alvarez’s win.
Photograph: Chicago Tribune photo by E. Jason Wambsgans