Dan Proft: Thank you for joining us on another edition of Against the Current; coming to you from the Skyline Club, on top of the Old Republic building in downtown Chicago. Our guest on this installment of Against the Current is Judge Fred Foreman. Judge Foreman, thanks so much for joining us, appreciate it.
Fred Foreman: Good afternoon!
Dan Proft: So, not just a judge, just a quick CV, because there’s so much here, so much history and texture and knowledge, but really a legal career that is unsurpassed in Illinois history, at least: Lake County State’s attorney for a decade; US attorney in the early 90’ – 90 to 93, if I got that right; Chief Judge, Lake County Circuit, 90th sub-circuit.
Fred Foreman: 90th Judicial Circuit.
Dan Proft: 90th Judicial Circuit, excuse me; and now, all the way back to private practice on a senior council.
Fred Foreman: That and a grandfather.
Dan Proft: Grandfather, I’ve reversed the order of importance, obviously, my bad.
Fred Foreman: It’s been a very interesting and challenging career, and I’ve been blessed to have moved in and out of the public sector; I’ve spent a lot of time in private practice – both as a sole practitioner and a practicing attorney, and I’m back doing that now; so I’ve had both government service and service in the private sector.
Dan Proft: So Lake County States, you were elected Lake County State’s attorney when you were a zygote; you were, right, 11 years old or something.
Fred Foreman: I came in with the Reagan landslide in 1980 – I was 32 – one of the younger State’s attorneys, and very close...upset incumbent at that time in the office, and served three terms as State’s attorney, until I was tapped by President Bush to become the United State’s attorney for the Northern District.
Dan Proft: And so, in the pantheon of fame, do US attorneys for the Northerner District up here in Chicago – Dan Webb and Antoine DeLuca, you, Patrick Fitzgerald, so many others, Noah Zack Fardon – one of the things I just want to get your perspective on at the outset is, being a State’s attorney, elected, it’s apolitical position in part, being an US attorney, you’re in Chicago, in the Northern District, there’s sort of a political culture up here in Chicago, in the state of Illinois, in addition to you being considered and thought highly of along the road for all kinds of other higher public offices, US Senate, even Governor, I wonder if you could give a little bit of perspective on how you think politics has changed from when you were State’s attorney, fresh newly admitted State’s attorney in Lake County in 1980 to where we find ourselves today with governor Rauner, and actually, guys you were familiar in 1980 – Mike Madigan and John Cullerton – because they were the general assembly then just as they are now; how you think the politics and the political culture in Chicago and Illinois has changed and maybe not changed.
Fred Foreman: Well, I think, as I said, I came in with the Ronald Reagan revolution, and I was very active right away after my first term, and the National District Attorney Association, which took me to Washington and sort of caught the atomic fever out there, got to know attorney general Muse very well, and a lot of other people in the administration, became President of the National District Attorney Association, and so I testified on some of the confirmation hearings for Robert Bork and Anthony Kennedy.
Dan Proft: Oh boy. That’s in the news all of a sudden, isn’t it?
Fred Foreman: I’d say that with that experience, and of course, as United State’s Attorney I had to go through confirmation myself, but when I look back – the 1980 were certainly the golden years for the Republican Party in Illinois and in Lake County, the Collar Counties, because governor Thompson, a former US attorney was governor, most of the office holders we elected republicans, and that whole 10 year period and into the 90s were strong years for the Republican Party. Obviously, with the George Ryan era go on and then the last almost 10 years of the Democrat presidents in Springfield, things have changed a lot; governor Rauner was elected because he was considered to be an independent Republican, a different brand of Republican, much like was seen on the national level. You’re seen a businessman that says he’s going to come in, it’s not going to be business as usual; he doesn’t need political contributions because they’re self-made people, and he’s going to try and make some changes that I think they’re going to have to be implemented in order to correct these financial situation in Springfield.
Dan Proft: With hind site being 20/20, do you look back at the 1980, as you say they’re kind of the salad years for the Republicans into the 90s, where there was control, even two year interregnum there in the House – 94: the Gingrich Revolution – and say, ‘Boy, it was great, it was to have governors, it was great to be in the majority, but we probably should have made some different policy choices that we made, because perhaps we sowed the seeds of the rise of democrats, even of the likes of Blagojevich and Quinn’, the same way that some are arguing that we have sown the seeds at the national level with republican leadership and congress for the rise of a Donald Trump.
Fred Foreman: Well, one of the things that I did do politically also in the 80’ was I was the delegate to the Republican National Convention in 84 and in 1988, so I participated – I was elected for that congressional district, and participated in that whole process of selecting a president, and it was unique back then, because Ronald Reagan had those two terms, and he wasn’t supposed to be elected in the first place, because they felt that he was an actor, but he had been a governor.
Dan Proft: Amiable don’ts.
Fred Foreman: Yes, that’s what his opinion was, but the people liked him; he said things that people liked, and so, when it came time for him to finish his second term, another unique situation arose with vice president Bush. He would have been the first vice president elected after a two years term over republican president in years; there was something that was unique about that. I was a Bush delegate, a Bush quail, and I was able to participate in a process that put me in a position, at that time, to become the United State’s attorney, because those federal appointments, whether it’s the United State’s attorney or any of the other top federal appointments, are political appointments. It’s the way they’ve always been.
Dan Proft: Right, and so thinking about – at the state level – the decisions of a governor Thompson, the decisions of a governor Edgar on some of the issues that bedevil us today, like our unfunded pension liabilities, and thinking about governor Edgar’s pension ramp in 94’; decisions that if you look back, and to say they may have seemed as good decisions at the time, or politically speeding decisions at the time, but the kind of compromises we were always told by the Chicago media we’re supposed to make, those compromises started to sow the seeds not over the public policy problems we faced, but also of Republicans finding themselves in the super minority in the general assembly, which is presented a particular challenge to governor Rauner, even after 50 years of Chicago democrat hegemony.
Fred Foreman: I think back then times were good. Times were good during the Reagan years, and actually times were good during the Bill Clinton years in Washington too. At the same time, the Republicans were taking over with Newt Gingrich here in Illinois; we had a change in the House when Lee Daniels and his group came in too; so there was an opportunity to make those changes, but I don’t really recall people being so concerned about it back then; I felt that they felt that they.
Dan Proft: Some people aren’t concerned about it today, that’s what I mean – slow learners.
Fred Foreman: They didn’t appreciate how this was going to increase. In fact, when you talk about – for instance – the argument over the 3% COLA that was passed back during that Thompson administration – I can recall, and I’ve read a little bit about those debates, and you’re talking about a time when your CV’s were paying a 15%, and social security cost for living increases were like 5%, and I can remember then talking about, ‘Well, 5% seems to be a lot, let’s settle on 3%’, so I think there was some – at least they recognized that there were going to be some issues going forward.
Dan Proft: And so, thinking about the politics, just a little bit more, part of the question that is asked sometimes – I have these conversations with the media types – who watches the watchman; who watches the watchman media? Who provides oversight of the media to make sure they’re not in the tank for one side or the other; they’re not trying to drive a particular point of view, while pretending to be objective scriveners; while the same thing can be said at the judiciary. The same thing – we talk a lot about the city of Chicago – Alderman who gets picked off for taking a $500 bribe, or even – in this state, unfortunately – governors who are doing all kinds of nefarious activities, and wound up in federal prison; but the judiciary… then you were involved in these seminal investigations and prosecution of some 90 corrupt public officials largely in the Cook County Judiciary – Operation Greylord, in the 80’; just distill that case, that prosecution a little bit, that operation and those prosecutions a little bit, and also – now fast forwarding almost 30 years – who watches the watchman today?
Fred Foreman: Well, as States attorney in Lake County, I had several opportunities to be involved with the federal government joint investigations, so I learned how that process worked; I was aware of the Greylord investigation that started in 1981 – actually, the investigation started earlier than that, under the United State’s attorney Tom Sullivan in 79’ that was indicted when Dan Webb was US attorney in 81, and continued with other superseding indictments which went after most of the traffic division in Cook County State’s attorneys, or Cook County court system, but also went into the Chancellery Division and some in the Law Division, so that was the initial emphasis.
Dan Proft: Judges taking bribes.
Fred Foreman: Yes, and a large group of judges that were involved in it and a lot of them were political appointees; and many of them did not attend to their court duties and it was a mess, and everybody knew it was a mess, so it then lead to a subsequent investigation; you felt the ground like it would be a deterrent; it didn’t deter everybody in the subsequent investigation, which I was more involved within the tale with the Greylord, and that was Operation Gambit, which looked both at the Chancellery Division in Cook County, as well as the city council; involved was alderman Roti and senator Diako, and then the presiding judge of the Chancellery Division at that time, David Shields; there were other judged that were indicted, and the sentenceshere was that organized crime and particularly organized street crime – street gangs – the street cruise that were part of the traditional organized crime we’re involved in payoffs in the judicial system.
Dan Proft: So you’re talking about the outfit combined with the big street gangs of the time, like the El Rukns.
Fred Foreman: Right, the Minister Disciples, Vice Lords; basically the corporate structure gangs; different than many of the gangs we have now, which are more of an entrepreneurial gang out there, but the structure of those large gangs and organized crime was one much like successful corporations.
Dan Proft: So all these judges go to jail, some aldermen go to jail, the outfits involved – the outfits today, 30 years later isn’t what it was in the 80’, at least by most people’s accounts. The first thing you said was most of these judges were political appointees. Well, it is the worst kept secret in Illinois politics that if you want a judgeship in Cook County Circuit Court you have to get the blessing of Mike Madigan or Ed Burke or both. Have we exchanged one form of undue influence for another?
Fred Foreman: No, I think that the couple of changes that came out of the Solovy commission – Jerry Solovy from General Block – they realized that they wanted to compensate judges much like they did with the federal bench here in Chicago; they wanted to make sure that they can attract quality individuals so that they wouldn’t be necessarily coming out of a political system; they would be coming out of better firms, they would be in from law enforcement, and the Supreme Court has instituted now an education conference and really more of a merit selection, which actually is merit election, because the Supreme Court on a vacancy will make an appointment, and most of the vacancies that are filled are filled by associate judges, at the circuit level, that have been selected by circuit judges at the local level; so you have more of a merit selection; you’re hoping that you can balance the politics of the situation, because they are elected officers with the recommendations of the bar associations, and pretty comprehensive background investigations on the judges.
Dan Proft: Now, the Tribune has been opining out of this for years; the merit selection for the circuit court, as opposed to ‘I go to my ballot on March 15th ‘, or Tuesday after the first Monday November, and I see 70 judges who’s names I never heard of, and they all happen to have Irish surnames, shockingly even today. Have this be some kind of panel of legal experts, those that know the judges, know their legal record, know their credentials, know their intellectual capacities, work ethic and those things, rather than leaving it up to the voters because it still provides for a bit of a thiefdom, a patronate thiefdom in the legal community for democrat power brokers like Madigan and Burke. Is that a good idea? This is a bit of an esoteric idea, but it turns out to be really important, particularly if you ever have to appear before a circuit court judge on a range of matter, is that a good idea or do you think that per grade lord there’s enough of a deturn effect, and some of the reforms you mentioned that had lasting impact, that that’s not necessary.
Fred Foreman: I think there has been a deturn effect and I think that we have a better quality of judiciary, and I think that the Supreme Court has taken a position and has placed the emphasis on administration by chief judges, which I served as that if you have misconduct by a judge in your courthouse, if you don’t report it, then you’re responsible as well; so there is accountability and discipline, and I think – with the Judiciary Inquiry Board, with greater financial disclosure – that the judges have to file the very detailed forms once you’re on a financial disclosure, so I think there is more there, and I think that the bar associations have looked very closely and it ranked the judges based on their qualifications, so that you’re hoping to elect the most qualified judges, but I don’t think we’re going to have merit selection per se, like they would have in the federal bench; as long as it allows no change, you’re going to have hopefully merit election, and you’re going to have judges required – like the judges now – to go to train every two years, and to have their continuing legal education, and I think the Supreme Court’s done a pretty good job on having served as a member of the conference of the chief judges; I’d meet with the Supreme Court on a monthly basis; they dictated to the chief judges what they’d expect from them, as far as being the watchman on the local watch on the local circuit.
Dan Proft: So the cliché about you get a judicial appointment, or you run for judge as a means to retire, is that unfair?
Fred Foreman: Is what?
Dan Proft: Is that unfair that you go to Madigan or Burke or you get a judicial appointment, you stand for election, you get elected to be a circuit court judge; that’s the means to retire and just enjoy the good life, and work from 1 to 1-15; is that an unfair caricature?
Fred Foreman: I don’t think it is anymore. I don’t really think. I think there is more input by the various bar associations, and I think they’re still – obviously, since we have elections, you’re going to have people, whether it’s Cook County or the other counties that are going to be involved. I’m involved in mentoring and looking for good judicial candidates myself now. I’m very active still in judicial organizations to make sure that we do get quality people, and I think that for instance, in Lake County, where we have our first Hispanic Chief Judge up there right now that’s serving; we’ve had three women Chief Judges in Lake County, so I think it’s important to have the diversity; I think it’s important to go particularly they have the retention elections, because if the judge is not doing the job, then he has to stand before the voters in six years to be retained.
Dan Proft: Now going back to something else you said about Greylord, about the influence of street gangs, and some of the corruption that occurred on the bench; do you think, fast forwarding to where we are now, with the level of violent crime in the city of Chicago, it isn’t as it was in the 80’, but that’s because crime has declined nationally in the last 30 years, but Chicago still higher murder/capita rate than New York and L.A combined. The El Rukns, the gangster disciples you mentioned, these were forerunners maybe to some of the Mexican drug cartels, or Colombian drug cartels, because as you would say, these would vertically integrate the corporations – for example, the Jeff Fort ran with the El Rukns. What’s the experience of prosecuting those criminal honor prizes, the street gangs that are responsible for so much violence on the west side of the city, or the south side of the city that is applicable today? What is it that the policy makers and political leaders today haven’t learned from what happened in the 80’ to stop the violence associated with these street gangs?
Fred Foreman: Well, when I was United States attorney, there was a Department of Justice initiative called [Weedancy? 00:18:55], and what this initiative was – it sounds sort of a catchy title, but Weedancy would weed out the crime influences and then receded with positive influences, and there was a coordinated effort here in Chicago targeting the south side with the projects on the south side: Ida B. Wells, Robert Taylor Homes, right down by Comiskey Park, and there was a targeting area – we had major raids, helicopters, the Attorney General came in and I actually was on one of [Inaudible 00:19:31] attorney with alderman Bobby Rush; elevator opened, there was a drug deal going on right in our presence, and the community was involved; the community wanted these places cleaned out.
Dan Proft: That’s an interesting point, let me just stop you there, because you get a part of it, and you see this in the presidential campaign right now, black liberation theologist like Cornel West talking about ‘I’m for Bernie Sanders because Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton passed the crime bill in the early 90s’, and it turns out, if you actually trace the history of stiffer laws for drug related crimes, like you go back to the Rockefeller years in New York, and it was the black community working with Nelson Rockefeller in New York; they wanded stiffer sentences, because they wanded those thugs, the street gang members, the drug traffickers, they wanded them out of their neighborhoods. There’s a bit of revisionist history about who supports getting street gangs and drug traffickers off their streets. It turns out that minority communities, the majority of law abiding minorities in some of these neighborhoods, they were the impedes for a lot of the stiffer penalties that were imposed by US attorneys like yourself.
Fred Foreman: Well, and the other thing, I had the support of the Department of Justice, you know, with this program to come in, and we had the authority to go into these areas and to use the racketeering statutes; to work with local law enforcement. Also back then, Chicago PD, they were as tough as nails in these neighborhoods, and they had gang crimes people in there that talked with the community, got information from the community, and turned it over to the drug taskforces. It was coming in nationally. Drugs were coming into the country, and they were being filtered into the neighborhoods, but I had a very unique relationship with Mayor Daley; he and I had been State’s attorneys together. We knew each other well, we traveled together; he was very active with the National District’s Attorney Association, and he knew the people in the Reagan and the Bush administration, and he knew they would assist if he requested it; but the other thing that was going on back then was that the city of Chicago, in the Loop, there was improvance being made in the Loop. Mayor Daley focused on economic development in the Loop, doing a lot of things that Giuliani didn’t do in New York; he wasn’t going to let the people come into the city and be hassled by people on the street. A lot of those people were put into shelters, they were taken care of, but they looked at the west side; they looked at the Chicago Stadium, the United Center on the west side, they looked at the Loop, and they looked at the White Sox Park, and they decided that in these areas, where the crime was becoming intolerable, that they were going to have economic development in the same they were cracking down on the gang structures, and that’s actually what happened over that time. From the Loop to the west side, from the Loop to the south side including McCormick Place and the Bears in Soldier Fields, these sports franchises, and the people that were involved in them, and the business men, and women in the area, the chamber of commerce, they all got together and said ‘We got to have economic development’. Look what it is today. When you start to take this whole issue of crime in the streets today – the gangs today are different. Whether they’re Waukegan, or Chicago, Juliet, or in the suburbs, they still deal on heroin, but the heroin is not going into the inner city, it’s going into the suburbs. We have an epidemic of overdoses of heroin in the suburban areas. We never had that before. I think what you’re looking at now, you’re looking at entrepreneurial. You have a different gang leadership or representation in each neighborhood. The neighborhoods, they’re not conclusive enough.
Dan Proft: You’re saying that you don’t have the kingpins, like a Jeff Ford.
Fred Foreman: Everybody’s an entrepreneur; one of the things back in the 80s and 90s, there were 1000 homicides a year in Chicago. There’s about 450, that’s way too many, but not only crime going down, a lot of people are incarcerated, a lot of people that were committing a lot of crimes are behind bars, but also, a lot of the people that were admitted to the emergency rooms - the techniques that came back from the war in the Middle East, they used them in emergency rooms on shootings. People are shot now and they’re safe; they don’t die anymore. The doctors and the nurses and the emergency personnel have done wonders.
Dan Proft: Yeah, but again, from the 80’ to today, in terms of aggregate numbers, but do you have to look at it in context, and in the context of Chicago versus other major urban centers today; and Chicago is still an outlier. There’s still something happening here that’s not happening elsewhere, so you’ve mentioned the difference between the gangs in the 80’ versus today; what about the difference in terms of law enforcement and prosecutorial cooperation from the 80’ until today? Is there some different approach? Is there something that just isn’t as cohesive and as cooperative as it should be that helps explain this in part? Is there not enough police? Are the police tactics different? What is it that is different in Chicago today as compared to L.A, New York, Houston, etcetera?
Fred Foreman: Well, the only thing I can say is I think there’s a sense that there needs to be more of an alliance between the police and the people that live in the communities. The police have to be in the community, they have to be doing proactive crime control in the communities, like they did; community policing came in back in the 80’ and the 90’, and I think that seems to work – maybe they’re using that in New York and L.A, although in the 90’ we had people detail from Chicago to go to L.A; prosecutors and law enforcement to assist with some of the problems they were having back then. I think that we had a good model then, I think they’re struggling to find that model today.
Dan Proft: So, speaking of alliances, the relationship between the US attorney for the Northern District and the Attorney General of the state of Illinois – and I bring this up because Lisa Madigan, who’s been our Attorney General for the better part of the last 13 years, said, when she first ran in 2002, against Joe Birkett, coming off of Jim Ryan’s 10 years Attorney General, that one of the things that she would do, that Republicans failed to do, was root out public corruption. Where was Jim Ryan when the George Ryan corruption was going on? And 13 years later, she doesn’t have a lot of successful prosecutions of corrupt public officials to show for her efforts – and they have been quite a few in 13 years in Illinois – as there always have been in that period of time. And so I guess the question is – I should point out that her rationale, and her explanation is ‘Well, in most of those cases, take [Inaudible 00:26:42] for instance, the US attorney’s office for the Northern District got involved and so I didn’t want to step on their feet.’ That’s been her explanation. Is that a fair explanation, and what is the relationship between a US attorney for the Northern District – which you were – and the Attorney General – regardless of party, you were US attorney for the Northern District when Ronald Burke, a democrat, was the Attorney General for us, and Neil Hartigan, a democrat, was Attorney General before him. So what of that relationship and Lisa Madigan’s explanation for her AWOL status over the 13 years?
Fred Foreman: Actually, that relationship with the US attorney, the Cook County State’s attorney and the Attorney General, has been the same for as long as I can remember. They’ve carved out their turf; the US attorney was going to handle public corruption, and federal corruption at their level. The Attorney General was going to be more involved with state prosecutions for environmental matters for regulatory matters and issues.
Dan Proft: [Inaudible 00:27:46] the consumer adequate.
Fred Foreman: Exactly. That’s been the tradition role; the other thing that Attorney Generals have become very active in, obviously just taking on major industries; as far as tobacco litigation, that was the Attorney General saying they’ve taken on various charities they go after for violation of those issues or those laws, and the Attorney General was always considered to be the chief law enforcement officer, but his role was always in that bailiwick, whereas the US attorney used to rotate every four years; Pat Fitzgerald was the only US attorney that ever served more than one term in modern history, because he was focused on the public corruption at the state and the local level, and that’s why most presidents left him in as long as they did; so he really assumed that role when I served as United State’s attorney, our role was to focus on the federal crimes, particularly public corruption, judicial corruption, the Attorney General worked with the local state’s attorneys; oftentimes came in and prosecuted cases where they had conflicts and the local states attorneys couldn’t do it, so that’s the traditional law, and I think most the Attorney Generals, when they run for office, that they’re going to – as a part of their platform – we’re going to do more public corruption cases.
Dan Proft: So when Attorney Generals, regardless of party, say that, they’re being a little disingenuous.
Fred Foreman: Well, they’re making a campaign promise that they probably aren’t going to keep. Details haven’t traditionally been around.
Dan Proft: It’s real practice, they teach that not to be their role.
Fred Foreman: Exactly.
Dan Proft: Law enforcement is a stepping stone springboard to higher office, to governorship; Governor Jim Thompson leverages his status as usage attorney to the governorship for Fort Term; Mayor Daley, obviously, he had a little bit of other things going on that assisted him; Mayor Giuliani in New York, sure; Fred Foreman back in the day, when he was US Attorney, he was widely rumored to be ‘Okay, this guy needs to take on Paul Simon and the sitting US Senator; this guy needs to be lieutenant governor for Jim Edgar; this guy needs to be governor himself someday’; So you chose the path somewhat less traveled, and stayed in the legal community then going on to be a judge, as we talked about before. What about political ambitions and the kind of thinking back to those years in the early 90’ when you were one of a handful of people that was routinely talked about for every vacancy for statewide office that occurred; any regrets, considerations? What was the calculus at the time?
Fred Foreman: Well, I was flattered to be considered, I say that from a high profile position, as US Attorney, but George Bush lost the election in 1992 and at that time, there wasn’t any available job openings and I had a young family that needed to be prepared for college and college tuition, and every time an opportunity came up someone was a little bit ahead of me in line.
Dan Proft: It wasn’t a lack of desire, then?
Fred Foreman: Not at all; it was just a question of Jim Edgar, who was elected governor, and he looked to be there for quite a while; Jim Thompson had just left the governorship; they were talking about him for president of the United States; he was very much considered for that position; and eventually, when Jim Edgar retired early, George Ryan was there; he’d been secretary of state; he was very popular, and Jim Ryan was t’ed up, and I was a supporter of Jim Ryan; so I had alliances, I mean, I remained very active in politics, but I continued to focus on profession; The legal profession – I practiced law, I had a good run for 11 years at the Freeborn and Peters law firm, and then I went on the bench, because I always wanted to finish my career as a judge. I’ve now finished my career as a judge, but I’m back again practicing law, so opportunities were there, but I had to wait the opportunity of running for higher office, and that investment with my family, and my kids were that age where they would all get ready for college, and there were a lot of funds over still in government, and I knew what my goals were, and that’s why I still remain active and try to make sure we get good judges in that third branch of government.
Dan Proft: Do you think it was a different time 25 years ago too in terms of the political culture where – because republicans were ascendant in that time period, as you described it earlier – that it was more of a wait your turn; there are slots and everybody comes together and figures it out; we’re going to put the square pack in the square hole, and the round pack in the round hole over here, where today it’s a little bit more wide open.
Fred Foreman: I agree. That’s a very good assessment of the way it is today, because nobody wants to wait in line anymore. Nobody wants to wait for their time.
Dan Proft: Is that a good or a bad thing?
Fred Foreman: Well, I’m not so sure, because you look at another former US Attorney that hit quite well is Chris Christie. Maybe his time was not now, because as a former US Attorney myself, I probably would have been in his court. He probably waited a little bit too long, and then I think just the impression that people had – he was a tough talker, but he was a bit of a bully, and I think he lost a lot on that, but there’s another timing… the governors that are running this year; these are traditionally Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton; you look at the people who have been elected to the highest office in the country over the past 50 years, they’ve either been an United States Senator – LBJ, JFK, president Obama – or they’ve been a governor, some of which never distinguished themselves as much as they thought they could of. The ones that lost – senator McCain, Bob Dole - they’re in that period of time; they were senators; but who did they lose to? They lost to governors.
Dan Proft: It seems like it’s a bit of a different age too; particularly in the 20 far news cycle, and this really predates your time at US Attorney’s office - as US Attorney, I should say – by a little bit, where Scott Walker is a good example, it seems, this cycle; maybe some other candidates, even Jeff Bush. You can be very good at retail politics, even at a statewide level; even in a big state, like Florida or Illinois, like Jim Thompson was, but if you’re not good on TV, if you can’t exist in the 24 hour cable news channel world, then you’re going to have a very difficult time, no matter how good your record is.
Fred Foreman: I’m a Wisconsin tax payer. I was a big fan of Scott Walker; my daughter’s in education in Wisconsin; she’s got her masters and she works in schools, and she likes Scott Walkers; she was a beneficiary of some of the reforms that took place that seemed to work very well, and are continuing to work well, so I was very much in favor of Scott Walker, but it hit the now in the head; he just didn’t have that ability. Look what happens to Senator Rubio, with one 20 minute duration of a debate with the former prosecutor putting the pressure on, and he lost his momentum just on that; maybe he’s regained it, maybe he’s not, but I think that’s tough hardball politics. With that kind of a news cycle, and the media focusing on making it competitive, that’s what happens.
Dan Proft: Do you think that – it’s my contention that the law follows culture, right? The law is reflective of culture, because frankly politicians are usually at the end of the parade route, not the beginning of it. They make decisions after they figure out which way the public’s going. They’re not usually leading the parade. And so, do you think that there’s not enough conversation, though in the Republican party, devoted to our culture, because the culture drives the law, and there should be rather than just saying ‘Follow the law, abide the law’, that’s always the solution to the exclusion of a deeper conversation about political culture.
Fred Foreman: I think it’s got to be culture in politics too. One simple value that we should have with the law and with politics is the rule of law; I’m a judge; I have to follow the law. I have to apply the law to the facts and if I don’t I have an Appellate Court that’s going to come down on me and say ‘You didn’t handle those properly’, or a supreme court. So I think that if you have an issue in our society, if you follow the law, many times that will clear up your issue. But when you start to defer judgment, or you decide that you’re going to postpone dealing with that issue, pretty soon you haven’t dealt with an issue and it has become such a big issue, because you’ve delayed it, you haven’t confronted it, that it becomes a stumbling block, which can – I think – stop your political progression.
Dan Proft: How much of an accountability mechanism - or a chastening mechanism perhaps – are at higher courts. In other words, as a circuit court judge, or a chief judge, if you get overturned at the Appellate Court level – it’s not like you lose your job; you still get your paycheck, what’s the perspective of judges in terms of thinking about a higher court’s overturning their holding?
Fred Foreman: If you really are proud of the job you’re doing as a judge, you don’t want to be reversed; you are graded publicly, and even what they used to call rule 23s, which were unpublished opinions, they’re getting published. The Second District Appellate Court that I’ve dealt with and the Supreme Court, if you’ve done something wrong, they’re going to point it out; you’re going to be held accountable. In the States, where you have to run for reelection as a judge, the first thing they look at, Wisconsin being an example, is your opinions, and the Appellate opinions, and your performance as a judge; and I know when I was chief judge, if I had a judge that was reversed by the Appellate Court, and it was because that judge wasn’t prepared, or that judge was cavalier about his responsibilities, he was in my office, and I always told them ‘This reflects poorly on the whole circuit, and frankly, it’s right down the line. Supreme Court will tell the same thing to the chief judges; you have a responsibility to make sure that your judges are held accountable for either misconduct or the fact that they’re election on duty’.
Dan Proft: Just your role; US Attorney role is interesting, and that’s much more of a public role, but as a chief judge of a circuit, most people experience court when they have to go pay a speeding ticket, right? Most people are not experienced court because they’ve committed some kind of serious crime, or because even they’re serving on a jury, necessarily; and so I just wonder what the experience is, what people should understand about how the circuit courts work; the job that is done at that level, versus what they see from salacious dramatizations on the cyber screen on television.
Fred Foreman: I’ve prosecuted people in court all the way from speeding tickets to capital murder. I’ve been a judge in those type of cases, and I’ve selected people for jurors to serve, in cases that many people would not see important, but the jurors come in, and I go talk to the jurors after their service back in my chambers, and I talked to them what they thought about the system in that case; in that then, a theft case or burglar case, not a murder case, and they are so excited about the fact that they’ve participated in the process. The same regard, if somebody goes to court on a traffic case, that’s the first time you’ve been to court, I don’t care who you are, you’re nervous, you’re upset, that’s the most important thing; people that go onto court and they’re having their houses foreclosed, that is an experience that’s almost like surgery, I mean, nowadays, with our economy and the impact I was telling you earlier, picking the jury during the Recession in 2006-2007, I had jurors that were in tears because they had so many problems at home, they wanted to be a juror, but they couldn’t. They couldn’t serve because they had a sick child, they were unemployed, but then others would say ‘I don’t care, I have to serve; have to do my duty’.
Dan Proft: I agree, it took me about 40 times in court for speeding tickets before I got comfortable. Now I’m comfortable after the amount of speeding tickets I’ve got. To that point, this is another caricature, right? You’re too dumb to get out of jury duty; and it turns out that maybe that’s a little bit unfair, that people who are selected for jury, numbers one, they want to do it, and not just for the per diem, but because they believe in the system, they want to understand the system, they want to learn the system, they take the job seriously, so you’re experience on the bench, with all of your legal experience was an edifying one for you, in terms of belief in the system?
Fred Foreman: Absolutely, jurors would come in and they would say ‘I have to serve my sons in Afghanistan or Iraq, and he’s serving there, I’m serving here’. I was on jury duty, and a former Waukegan detective was on jury, so he came over to me and said ‘What are you doing here?’ My picture’s up on the wall and I’m on jury duty, and I said ‘I’m on jury duty’. He says, ‘What kind of a judge are you? You can’t even get out of jury duty?’ I think that that’s a strict rule, you get selected for jury duty, you go to jury duty.
Dan Proft: It’s funny when governor Rauner was just candidate Rauner in 2014; his number got called for jury duty, he went duty; there is a story about it, right? He went to jury duty, he didn’t get selected, but he showed up to jury duty and went through the process just like everybody else, and that’s one of the great leveling aspects of our justice system, is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a governor, or a former US Attorney, or a Waukegan detective, or anybody, that you all go through the same process and there’s something that is unifying about that process, and maybe that’s what generates, number 1, people taking that very seriously, number 2, as imperfect as that is, the best justice system in the world.
Fred Foreman: You can mention this to your co-host, Amy, in the morning, but we once had Mike Caplan, who was a weatherman at Channel 7, ABC, well known from Lake County, he was out one of my juries, a criminal case, and he came in and sat there every day, and did his time; he talked about it several times afterwards, about what a great experience it was, but then he came back with Jackie Bange, and they cut an orientation video on jury duty, because they both been on jury duty, and Jackie’s married to a Lake County judge, so they came back and they were just delighted to do that; and we show it now to the jurors during orientation, and so it doesn’t really matter who you are; you’re here to serve, and you’re just not going to get out of jury duty.
Dan Proft: I have to get your take because of this legal career that we’ve described on the position and somebody that has gone through a certain confirmation hearing, you mentioned at the outset – with respect to being confirmed to be US Attorney – on the center republican position, on President Obama promulgating a nominee to replace Justice Scalia, and their position that no hearings will be held, regardless of the nominee that you level up to us, this is something that should wait for the next president. Ultimately, isn’t this a political process, and so all of the hue and cry from Democrats, because they don’t have the senate is just political hue and cry? If they were in a position where they did control the Senate, they would do something very differently than they’re saying now if they had a Republican President; the arguments would be reversed, essentially, as they have been historically with Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer; and then New York Times and everyone else going even back to the board curings; What’s your opinion on that, because our junior senator, the Republican Mark Kirk is one of the few that has broken from the ranks, and suggested that President Obama should perform the nominee – which of course he will – and that the Senate should take up that nominee.
Fred Foreman: I was a little surprised that the senate acted so quickly; the Saturday that Justice Scalia died they said they wouldn’t entertain a nomination; if you look at the Constitution, the President can send a nomination over, and then the Senate can decide whether or not, under the broad interpretation of advised consent, how they’re going to handle that nomination.
Fred Foreman: I think what senator Kirk tried to say is ‘Well, let’s see who you’re going to send over; I’ll keep an open mind so I see who your nominee is’, and then, of course, they’ve decided there will not be any hearings. I don’t know if that means any more hearings for pending nominations, because when I was nominated, there were a couple senators who did not want a particular person confirmed as a federal judge, so essentially, politically, John Sununu was the chief of staff; there was a brick on a pile stacked on his desk of nominations. The nominations under that brick, who was somebody else’s file, were not going to move until that was dealt with. It took my nomination almost 9 months to get confirmed.
Dan Proft: And did they explore your video rentals, the way they explored judge Sparks with video rentals?
Fred Foreman: Full pledge FBI background investigation.
Dan Proft: Yeah, a full colonoscopy.
Fred Foreman: And as I mentioned, as president of the National District Attorney Association, I gave testimony both at the board confirmation hearings and with the Kennedy confirmation hearings, as the president of National District Attorneys, but once the nomination comes over, advice and consent gives the senators a lot of opportunities to do pretty much what they want to do as long as they stay within the confines of the Constitution.
Dan Proft: This isn’t the watershed moment when bork became a verb, after judge Bork got borked, which is not part of our political parlance. Isn’t that a change where ‘Hey, if we have the power, then we’re going to exorcize it’; democrats and republicans.
Fred Foreman: Yeah, I think that it was a much more cordial gentleman-like participatory process, and I think that that had a lot to do with changing the rules of the game, and it’s unfortunate; the Senate used to be much more collegial, and I think that’s a lot of the frustration now in some of the presidential races, as people want Washington to work. They’re sending a lot of money out there, they want to see it work.
Dan Proft: So thinking about that, and thinking about the presidential race, how do you – as a long time political observer – locally, statewide, nationally, how do you explain the rise of Donald Trump as we sit here today; he’s about this close from earning the table and being the Republican nominee.
Fred Foreman: People are frustrated, they’re frustrated with big government, they want more accountability, and Trump is saying a lot of things that people want to hear. I haven’t heard too many plans as how he’s going to carry out these particular plans, but that seems to be what people are looking at; now they’re frustrated and now they’re angry.
Dan Proft: And at the state level, you’re Mr. Lake County; that’s your moniker, one of your many monikers – Mr. Lake County; and it turns out.
Fred Foreman: I prefer Grandpa.
Dan Proft: Oh, yeah, Grandpa, the preeminent Moniker; it turns out that if you look at the numbers - just as we’re looking at the numbers, the delegate math, and so forth, the presidential – if you look at the numbers in Illinois, at the state level, the Republican party cannot be, and will not be, the majority party in the state if they’re not the party in the suburbs. Collar County is like Lake County, which is frankly a 50/50 county these days. And so, what do you think it is that Republicans need to do in Illinois that they haven’t been doing to win races in the Collar Counties, like up many races – legislative races in Lake County – that they haven’t won, that are winnable; what do you think it is that Republicans need to do to be that majority party in the Collar Counties, and again, in the suburbs, as the predicate to being the majority party in the state.
Fred Foreman: They have to have solutions. They have to have solutions to healthcare; they can’t just say they’re going to repeal Obama Care; they have to have an alternative, they have to have a plan; I think they have to have a plan for economic development; they have to have a plan to balance the budget; they have to have a plan for education; the largest expense in the tax bill is education; public education, so there has to be confidence in the educational system.
Dan Proft: Do you think prosecutors make good executives, make good politicians at a statewide level, either senate or a governor, or is it a mixed bag?
Fred Foreman: Most prosecutors, if they’re successful, it means that they have good people that they can manage to make them successful. You have to be a good manager, but you have to hold people accountable, and you have to be willing to make a decision; you can’t postpone a decision. In any government, to manage people, I’ve taken the position that no matter what the organization is, 10% of the people are either incompetent or incapable of doing the job. If you have to replace them, you have to be accountable and replace them; that’s your job as an elected official, or as a department head that may very well be replaced by the same type of people, but that’s a fact of management and skill; being a public manager, the opportunity to have wonderful people working for me; when I’ve been State’s Attorney, United State’s Attorney and Chief Judge; these people, you ask them to do something, they do it. If they don’t do it, then you have to hold them accountable.
Dan Proft: So sometimes, Bernie Sanders is a 74 year old socialist running for president, and doing quite well. Maybe you got a statewide run in you left at some point; the statewide run that didn’t happen in the early 90’ when it could have happened?
Fred Foreman: I am delighted – like Bernie – to be a grandfather.
Dan Proft: Yeah; a non-socialist.
Fred Foreman: No, he’s very entertaining, but that’s what we have now here in the country. We have several senior citizens all mind, all older than me, that are great, but at this point, I’m blessed to have a wonderful family, and I’ve been married 45 years; I’m lucky; I’m one of the survivors.
Dan Proft: Alright, he is Grandpa Fred Foreman, former US Attorney, former Lake County Chief Judge, now senior council at Freeborn & Peters; Fred Foreman, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it!
Fred Foreman: Thank you! You bet.
Dan Proft: Great, thank you.