Kwame Raoul was born in Chicago to Haitian immigrants. Kwame started his legal career nearly 25 years ago as...
Jon Amarilio is a partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister in Chicago. He represents individuals, small businesses, state and...
In this special, two-part edition of @theBar, host Jon Amarilio sits down with the Democratic and Republican candidates in the race for Illinois Attorney General: Kwame Raoul and Erika Harold. Rather than a search for politicized sound bites, these interviews delve deeper into who the candidates are, how they grew up, why they’re running, and how they view the Office of Attorney General in an increasingly partisan age. Tune in before Election Day and join the conversation.
The Illinois Attorney General Election Edition, Part I Kwame Raoul
Jon Amarilio: Hi everyone. This is your host Jon Amarilio. And we are bringing to you a special election doubleheader with the next two interviews. They are interviews with Democratic candidate for Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and Republican candidate for the same office, Erika Harold.
But we are trying to do something different with these interviews. Rather than talk about political issues, which they have already talked about to exhaustion for anyone here in this state, we wanted to learn about who they are, how they grew up, and as importantly, why they are running for Attorney General and how they view the role of a state Attorney General in an increasingly partisan age.
So these interviews are with Illinois Attorney General candidates, yes, but it’s really about a much broader conversation that we are having or at least that I think we should be having all across the country.
And with that, I hope you enjoy.
Jon Amarilio: Hello everyone and welcome to CBA’s @theBar, a podcast where young and youngish lawyers discuss with our guests legal news, topics, stories, and whatever else strikes our fancy.
I am your host Jon Amarilio of Taft Stettinius & Hollister, and joining me today is Illinois State Senator and more importantly for our purposes today, Democratic candidate for Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. Welcome Senator.
Kwame Raoul: Thank you for having me.
Jon Amarilio: Thank you for coming on. So we have a lot of ground to cover and I want to dive right into it. But before we do that, I would like to learn a little bit more about you, who you are as a man, where you come from, what your background is.
So let’s start there, it’s my understanding that, like me, you are the son of immigrants, right?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, yeah.
Jon Amarilio: Can you tell me about that?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, I am son of two Haitian immigrants who actually met in New York and settled in Chicago in 1960. My mother was working in a sweatshop really in New York when she met my father, who was doing his residency.
Jon Amarilio: Medical doctor?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, he was doing his residency with a focus on pathology at the time and he actually — when he finished, he finished top of his class, came out to Chicago with an interview at Loretto Hospital, and because it was 1960, they didn’t expect the individual who had finished at the top of his residency class to be black.
Jon Amarilio: How did that go?
Kwame Raoul: It didn’t go well, as a result he borrowed some money from a friend and he set up a private practice on the south side focusing on internal medicine, just being a regular community physician on staff at community hospitals such as St. Bernard Hospital and the old Hyde Park Hospital and he was a type of doc who made house calls, with a little black bag with a stethoscope in it and a little medicine that he would have in there. He also had a little black pistol in there because he would make house calls at all times of the night.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah, but he could fix anyone he shot.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah. So yeah, he believed in healthcare as a human right and he wouldn’t reject patients, he would often come home with a block of cheese, a fruitcake or a meal somebody had prepared.
So yeah, they raised me on the south side in Hyde Park.
Jon Amarilio: Where did you go to school?
Kwame Raoul: I went to elementary school, a school that doesn’t exist anymore, it was Harvard St. George and then high school at the Lab School, University of Chicago Lab School.
Jon Amarilio: Fantastic school.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah. My classmate and basketball teammate was Arne Duncan, who became the Secretary of Education.
Jon Amarilio: Is that right? I didn’t know that.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, we still play ball together.
Jon Amarilio: Quite the incubator.
Kwame Raoul: Yes, indeed. Justice Stevens was a Lab School student.
Jon Amarilio: Right, that I know.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah. So I was raised there in Hyde Park.
Jon Amarilio: Any siblings?
Kwame Raoul: Two siblings, two older siblings; one who took the burden off of me in terms of following dad’s footsteps, so she became a physician. And my other sister runs a not-for-profit in Brooklyn, working with undocumented immigrants primarily of Haitian descent, but also of other backgrounds. So she is really engaged on that front.
And me, I became a lawyer at 25.
Jon Amarilio: Black sheep of the family.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, there is enough jokes about lawyers.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah, I hear them plenty. So how were your parents — both of your parents were immigrants, not just your father?
Kwame Raoul: Yes.
Jon Amarilio: Okay. So how was their experience as immigrants? How did that inform your upbringing?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah. I think I had a perspective different than a lot of my friends, not just from being an immigrant, but specifically being a Haitian immigrant. Haiti is known as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, but it’s also known as the country that just sort of got the freedom ball rolling in the Western Hemisphere.
It’s a country that was born out of a slave revolt, first Black Republic of the world, and my parents, my father in particular, never would let me forget that origin. So I think that engrained within me a spirit of that independence and that justice and activism.
Jon Amarilio: So what made you want to go to law school?
Kwame Raoul: I think it might have been a contributing factor. I think quite honestly, as I was coming up in high school, I had no idea what precisely I wanted to do, and as I started in college, I started out at an engineering school. I started out at IIT, because I was strong in math and I didn’t know what I wanted to do and everybody told me —
Jon Amarilio: A lawyer who is strong in math, okay, wow, I have met one.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah. But everybody told me that well, you should study engineering and I started at IIT and discovered that that wasn’t the pathway I wanted to take, and so I actually transferred to DePaul University. I took a political science class; it was the first college course that I enjoyed.
Jon Amarilio: How far into college were you when you started enjoying it?
Kwame Raoul: That was probably junior year. Let’s be clear, I enjoyed college, but that was the first class that I enjoyed. So I started taking more political science classes, with some of them being prelaw courses that were taught in a Socratic method and so I got a little taste of what it would be like to be in law school and a couple of years out of college I decided to go apply.
I had worked a couple of years as a quality auditor for a company that bought packaging for the McDonald’s Corporation.
Jon Amarilio: That sounds fun.
Kwame Raoul: It was actually fun, because I was able to travel the country and visit a lot of small towns and some small towns that were fortunately around some big towns. So I was really able to see America. I traveled like about 80% of the time and I got to see all regions of the country.
Jon Amarilio: So did you come back to Chicago for law school?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, I stayed in Chicago. We were based in Westmont at the time, but did maybe 80% traveling and I came back to law school at Chicago-Kent.
Jon Amarilio: And then what did you do after law school?
Kwame Raoul: I started my career as a prosecutor in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, starting in the Criminal Appeals Division. I went in there kind of begging, trying to get on the civil side of the office, and after finishing my stint in Criminal Appeals, I was granted an opportunity to go to the civil side. But they put me in industrial claims where I was doing workers’ compensation defense for about a year-and-a-half. Then I begged my way back onto the criminal side, where I was put in the juvenile court and soon there, maybe a couple of years later, I discovered that my fastest way to 26th Street was to go into a small private practice. So I was in a boutique practice; we were located on a storefront in Evanston.
Jon Amarilio: Is that right?
Kwame Raoul: My partner was —
Jon Amarilio: 08:18.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, yeah, it was pretty much a two, three lawyer office. Lionel Jean-Baptiste, who is now on the bench, was my partner. We shared being of Haitian descent and being located in Evanston, we had a natural client base there and so did a little bit of everything. We called it a bit of a potpourri practice, whatever somebody came in the door needing, we were prepared to do.
Jon Amarilio: I have always admired solos who can do that, it doesn’t seem easy, especially in this era of specialization amongst lawyers, right?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah. Well, you know, the thing that that type of practice prepared me for was thinking on my feet. I did a lot of driving around to the various branch courts, often doing a lot of the misdemeanor trials that didn’t involve the level of preparation that some of the — when we do felony trials that we do, so you have to really think on your feet, because you do trials the same day that you are —
Jon Amarilio: Yeah, it’s a Wild, Wild West, right, yeah, show up and try it.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah. And you have calls at three different courthouses at the same time, so you are practicing under the backseat of your car. I learned a lot from that though.
Jon Amarilio: What did you learn?
Kwame Raoul: I learned to engage with all sorts of individuals. You have clients — you don’t always pick your clients, your clients pick you and you learn that while a case may seem like a small case when juxtaposed against bigger, more high-profile case for that particular client —
Jon Amarilio: It means everything.
Kwame Raoul: It means everything. So you had to learn to appreciate that, particularly when you had a variety of clients and a variety of levels of cases that you were dealing with.
Jon Amarilio: And how long did you do that for?
Kwame Raoul: I did that for four years and I went back in-house with the City Colleges of Chicago doing primarily employment and traditional labor. I negotiated with 13 different collective bargaining units on behalf of the City Colleges. I defended employment practices litigation cases in federal court, defended some tort cases and —
Jon Amarilio: So a little bit of everything.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah. And did some workers’ comp, as well as supervising some outside counsel as well.
Jon Amarilio: Sure.
Kwame Raoul: So we did both hands-on trying of cases as well as supervising outside counsel on cases.
Jon Amarilio: What lessons would you say you took from that experience?
Kwame Raoul: Well, the uniqueness of the client. The Chancellor, the then Chancellor used to always say, we are all educators, and so as a lawyer you are a student of the law and you observe law and an important thing with every client that you get is learning the client — if the client is in a business, learning that client’s business, if it’s an individual, learning what that individual’s goals are.
So in the case of representing a community college system, that was a system designed to provide access to a lot of nontraditional higher education students, that was a second chance for many of them, it was important for the Chancellor to let us know that it wasn’t for us just simply about defending an employment discrimination case or engaging in negotiations with collective bargaining units about steps and disciplinary processes and working conditions, everything was to be centered around the notion of delivering educational services, so we would have to think from that sort of paradigm as we were representing.
Jon Amarilio: Noble mission. So does that take us up to 2004 then, when you were —
Kwame Raoul: Yeah.
Jon Amarilio: So in 2004, you were appointed to fill the seat in the Illinois State Senate that was left vacant by then newly US Senator Barack Obama, so kind of some big shoes to fill there. How did that go?
Kwame Raoul: Indeed. Well, first off, you need some backdrop on that. I have to acknowledge that I am a three-time loser. What I mean by that is I ran for office three times unsuccessfully; I ran twice for Alderman against Toni Preckwinkle, once in 1995 and one in 1999.
Jon Amarilio: You picked the easy fight.
Kwame Raoul: Well, I was — I came out of Law School in 1993, the campaign for Alderman started in 1994, I just wanted to engage in public service and I didn’t want to be a carpetbagger. I grew up in Hyde Park so I just ran from where I lived.
Jon Amarilio: I love the spirit.
Kwame Raoul: And I got trounced. But one of the things that did happen from that race is I got a lot of young professionals to be engaged in caring about a political race and paying attention to politics. So I think that was one of the wins I took away from that.
In 1996, I actually ran against former state Senator, and he is also a former state Representative Bobby Molaro for state Senate, and that was the same year, 1996, the district lines were different, that was the same year that Barack Obama ran for the first time for the state Senator.
His district at that time was directly across the street from mine. I didn’t move, at redistricting time the lines moved. And so his first time running for state Senate was my second time running for office and it was my first time running for the state Senate.
Jon Amarilio: Did you give him some pointers? Let me tell you how it’s done?
Kwame Raoul: He was a little bit more of a poised candidate at the time than I was, notwithstanding the fact that I had just run the previous year for Alderman.
Jon Amarilio: So that’s how you formed your connections in the political sphere?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah. Well, so, as it happened when you vacate a seat, as Barack Obama did in 2004 when he won the race for the US Senate, the committeemen within the district vote on a weighted vote basis to replace the incumbent, the previous office holder.
In my case, the 13th District was heavily weighted in the 4th and 5th Wards, the 4th Ward at the time, the Alderman there was Toni Preckwinkle and she was also the committeewoman there, and in the 5th Ward it was Leslie Hairston. While the district touched maybe 10 or 11 wards, between the two of them they had 55% of the weighted vote.
It just so happens that I had been — after I lost to Toni the second time, I started volunteering for her organization. I was running a volunteer legal clinic once a month out of her office. It expanded into the 5th Ward where I was doing it also in the 5th Ward for Leslie Hairston, who I actually went to high school with and I was just engaging in volunteerism. I had no idea that Barack Obama was going to be running for US Senate and certainly I thought — I wouldn’t have thought that if he would run for US Senate that he would have won.
If you think about it at the outset of when he was running, both Toni and Leslie spoke to me about the possibility of me running in a subcircuit race.
Jon Amarilio: Oh, is that right?
Kwame Raoul: This was in 2003, leading up into the 2004 primary. At the time in 2003, my father had been given months to live. He was a victim of prostate cancer. So I decided for myself that I was not going to be a candidate for anything during that primary, and so I deferred to Ed Washington, who ended up running for that subcircuit seat and winning that subcircuit seat.
Jon Amarilio: So it worked out for you in the end.
Kwame Raoul: Yes, it did, but I remember a conversation I had with Leslie Hairston about that. I kind of kept my cards close to my chest, where she said, well, you know, as she — Ed and I spoke, Kwame, Barack is running for US Senate and it’s a possibility he might win, in which case that seems something like — more like something you would have a passion for.
I said come on Leslie, there is no way Barack is going to win this US Senate race.
Jon Amarilio: It was a crazy election.
Kwame Raoul: And Dan Hynes is in this politically connected family and —
Jon Amarilio: There was like Jim Ryan, the sex scandal and Keyes, I think.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah. And they had Blair Hull, who pledged to spend $50 million, which may be compared to this year’s gubernatorial race is not much, but back then was a lot of money. So it was hard to imagine that a guy by the name of Barack Obama was going to win the statewide race for US Senate.
But sure enough, that March he won and I immediately contacted Toni and Leslie and I said I am interested. And they had me demonstrate my capacity to get people behind me and demonstrate that that would be a viable candidate if challenged after appointment and they saw fit to appoint me.
Jon Amarilio: And so you have been there for 14 years now, is that right?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, I have been there for 14 years. I remember my first day there, Barack was there and he gave me some very valuable advice. He was there to say goodbyes to some colleagues and I said Barack, this is my first time in the state capital, could you give me some advice here?
He says well, I have got a plane to catch, I am going to eat lunch in my office, why don’t you follow me in there and we can talk while I eat lunch? I said well, isn’t that my office now? And he didn’t laugh, but he did allow me to come in the office and he shared with me. He said, you know Kwame, you know some people from Chicago, it’s the easiest thing for you to just gravitate to those people. My advice to you is get to know people from other parts of the state and on the other side of the aisle, get to know them as friends, discover what your commonalities are, and more importantly, learning about your differences in a way that doesn’t divide you.
Jon Amarilio: It’s a poignant message these days.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah. He says have conversations beyond the point of when you would be offended. You will learn more that way and you will bring along people more that way.
Jon Amarilio: That piece of wisdom sounds like a great place for us to take a quick break. We will be right back.
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Jon Amarilio: And we are back. So Senator, you get down to Springfield, you have got some big shoes to fill, although they weren’t quite as big as they would end up being just yet. What did you do with your time in Springfield or what have you done with your time in Springfield?
Kwame Raoul: Well, I have tried to run towards difficult issues. I have come to be known as the guy that handles what is often characterized as middle of the highway legislation; it’s middle of the highway because you get hit by traffic going both directions. Everybody is a little bit disappointed with the outcome and everybody is a little bit of happy with the outcome.
Jon Amarilio: That’s how you know you did a good job, right?
Kwame Raoul: Exactly, exactly. So these were things like negotiating workers’ compensation reform, working on gun policy. When we were mandated to pass a Concealed Carry Law, Senate President Cullerton turned towards me to negotiate that bill, criminal justice reform packages.
I actually had a conversation with Bruce Rauner seven days after he was elected and I suggested to him that a place where he could gain some bipartisan support and accomplishment is criminal justice reform. That folks like Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist and the Koch Brothers had even endorsed criminal justice reform.
And so he and I actually penned an op-ed together soon after he became Governor and he signed an Executive Order creating a Criminal Justice Reform Commission on which I served, along with Roger Heaton, a man who I tremendously respect, a former US Attorney for the Central District who served as the Chair of the Commission. Roger is now his Chief of Staff. Roger and I along with other professionals worked on a package of recommendations to General Assembly, some of which we put into legislation which I carried.
Jon Amarilio: What does it include?
Kwame Raoul: It included certain more leeway on mandatory supervised release, so we don’t send people back into prison just for technical violations when there’s no really need to do that, more discretion in terms of some nonviolent offenses, reduction in truth and sentencing for certain offenses.
And on the other hand, it also included a more targeting of stiff penalties on a certain population of repeat gun offenders, and so we had a balance within the legislation and there are probably some components of it that I am forgetting at the moment.
Jon Amarilio: Sure. You were a big motivating force behind the abolition of the death penalty if I understand correctly, right?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, yeah, it was Senate sponsored legislation, that was a real — that was probably one of the most moving moments for me in the legislature. I remember Randy Steidl, who had sat on death row for 17 years, testifying in the Committee as we had people weighing in on both sides of the issue. And there were those who advocated that we had implemented a lot of reforms, that my predecessor had advanced videotape interrogation and we had made sure that in capital cases everybody received adequate counsel, that with these reforms that we were okay with continuing with the death penalty.
Jon Amarilio: Right.
Kwame Raoul: But I made the point that in three different counties you had three different individuals that were accused and charged with killing their loved ones, two people charged for killing their daughters, one charged with killing their mother who had implicated themselves on videotape for crimes they did not commit, that showed the fallacy of a criminal justice system that’s run by human beings who are fallible.
Jon Amarilio: Right. You can’t take back an execution.
Kwame Raoul: That’s right. And Randy Steidl testified to just that. He said you can release an individual from prison, but you cannot release them from the grave, and that was just such a —
Jon Amarilio: Powerful line.
Kwame Raoul: Powerful line, yeah. I repeated it in my closing as I argued for the abolition on the Senate floor. One of the interesting things that came back to Barack Obama’s initial advice was that as we were taking a roll call in the Senate, I only had 27 Democrat votes for the abolition of the death penalty.
Jon Amarilio: And just so our audience knows, how big is the Illinois Senate?
Kwame Raoul: There are 59 members so you need 30 votes to —
Jon Amarilio: So just a little shy.
Kwame Raoul: We ended up with 32 votes. And oftentimes when you have bills that fall primarily on partisan lines, where there may be some crossover, the crossover is usually from individuals who are more moderate Republicans. Some of the votes were not from Republican Senators who would be characterized as moderate Republicans.
Jon Amarilio: Is that right? What brought them over?
Kwame Raoul: I think I remember approaching Senator Dan Duffy and I said, yeah, I notice he had signed on as a sponsor of the bill and Dan is known as more of a conservative Democrat and Dan said, you know Kwame, sometimes what’s right is right and I know what I signed on to, because the bill started out as a bill that when I initially passed it out to the House, that had nothing to do with the death penalty, it was a bill that had to do with probation services. And when we felt like we were getting momentum in the House, to get votes in the House, we used that as a vehicle bill to put the abolition of the death penalty on there.
There were others like Senator Tom Johnson, who I frequently would cross the aisle to speak to, who serves on the Prisoner Review Board now as — after retirement from legislature, and Tom and I used to always have conversations. And Tom was the one who said, I don’t think that execution is necessarily a bad penalty for one’s bad acts, but he was clear that he understood that we were fallible and we had gotten it wrong far too many times and his conscience couldn’t allow him to continue with the death penalty given that we were second only to the State of Florida in the number of men we sent to death row for crimes they had not committed.
Jon Amarilio: Oh wow. I would have assumed Texas was right up there.
Kwame Raoul: Well, so the challenge with Texas is Texas has swift justice and once you execute somebody, it’s —
Jon Amarilio: Case closed.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah. So speaking of justice and legal issues, you are running for Illinois Attorney General. You are — Lisa Madigan I should say has been the Attorney General of Illinois for, I am failing to remember how long —
Kwame Raoul: For about 16 years.
Jon Amarilio: Okay, so my entire adult life pretty much. One of the things that she has really stepped up in the past year, year-and-a-half is filing lawsuits against the federal government.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah.
Jon Amarilio: She has filed about 30, if I remember correctly, everything from the travel ban, to deportation of DACA recipients, family separation at the border, protection of ACA coverage, the infamous 2020 census question regarding citizenship, net neutrality. And as I was looking at this, these are all obviously hot button political issues, but at their core they are also legal issues, and that brings to mind what the role of an Attorney General is, and I would love to get your opinion on what is that.
Kwame Raoul: It’s really evolved. I have to admit, Lisa introduced me most recently at a Democrat Attorneys General Association Conference that was held in — policy conference that was held in Chicago, as we both did the welcome for it, and she says well, Kwame has had his eye on my job for some time, and she wasn’t lying when she said that, because I thought she was going to be running for Governor four years ago, so five years ago I started planning on running for Attorney General.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah.
Kwame Raoul: The Attorney General’s office that I was going to run for four years ago is dramatically different from the Attorney General’s office that I am running for today, because I really believe that who we elect as Attorney General, not only in the State of Illinois, but throughout the country matters more than it has at any time in American history.
Jon Amarilio: Why?
Kwame Raoul: Well, it used to be, and Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who spoke in Chicago recently at ABA.
Jon Amarilio: I was there at the dinner. She was fantastic.
Kwame Raoul: If you remember, one of the things she said, we used to rely on the US Attorney’s Office to come into the states and defend the rights of people and oftentimes against the overreach of the state government or local government.
Jon Amarilio: Right, 28:39 and all that.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, desegregation schools, holding rights and cops, and now that she was on the other foot is state Attorneys General individually sometimes, like Lisa Madigan with the consent decree stepping up, when Jeff Sessions stepped away from what Loretta Lynch initiated to the things that they are doing collectively. You mentioned travel ban that started with Bob Ferguson, Attorney General in Washington, who I have come to know.
You have got keeping kids together with their parents, separation of kids from their parents. You have got stopping the ridiculous notion of publishing blueprints for undetectable 3D guns, that the Trump administration was going to allow to have until state Attorneys General stepped in.
And one that’s near and dear to me, not that all the other ones aren’t, is protection of access to health care through a couple of different lawsuits. First it was one where state Attorneys General stepped up when the federal government was going to take away subsidies for the Affordable Care Act and most recently there’s litigation in the Texas District Court where Republican Attorney Generals have sued to try to take away protection for pre-existing conditions.
And, Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump have stepped away from defending it and it is Democrat. State Attorneys General who have collectively including Lisa Madigan stepped forth to defend the Affordable Care Act.
I say, it’s personal because, one, I mentioned my dad was a community physician and he believed in healthcare as human right. Two, I lost him to prostate cancer which struck me three years ago and it was my access to healthcare to allow me to screen after I answered that question of family history at a visit to my physician’s office. And that led to us because prostate cancer took not only my dad, it took both of my grandfathers and struck uncles on both sides. So I had a strong family history, that is what the Affordable Care Act tries to focus on.
Jon Amarilio: Preventive medicine.
Kwame Raoul: Preventive medicine, getting all people to have access to early detection based on family history, based on annual screenings. I embraced it and so three years ago when my day came, and I got a positive biopsy result one of the things I knew is I had screened religiously.
And so, I was probably the beneficiary of early detection, and I also knew with that access to healthcare, I could shop for the best surgeon in the area. I found the guy who had performed the most Da Vinci robotic prostatectomies in the region.
Jon Amarilio: I want to ask about few details.
Kwame Raoul: But, it’s actually kind of cool.
Jon Amarilio: Wait, come on, let’s focus, let’s focus, law.
Kwame Raoul: But — and I’ve got a great prognosis. I believe that more than likely I’ve got all the cancer out of my body and I can sit ready today to fight for that same access for other people that should have that same access to that early detection than I did.
Jon Amarilio: So there’s been this shift, right, but when I usually think of the role of States Attorney General, I think of as the Chief Legal Officer of the State in Illinois and as it is in most states and that usually entails defending the State against lawsuits. But as you were discussing a few minutes ago that has really shifted and a lot of democratic States’ Attorney Generals have gone on the offensive to proactively defend certain rights and go after certain issues against the federal government.
My question with that is, how do you balance it, those two roles, because one seems you’re supposed to be kind of this a political actor, right, a lawyer’s lawyer, and the other part of it is perhaps necessarily involved in the daily rough-and-tumble of politics, what’s the right balance to your mind?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, well, I bring to being a lawyer, the reason I became a lawyer it’s being advocate, right, if you think fundamentally what you do, even being respectful to the rule of law, you’re in there to utilize it to advocate for the interest of your client.
If you think of the caption and a lot of the cases involving the State, it is not the State of Illinois it’s the people of the State of Illinois. So, if you think of that in the context of some of the federal action has taken place, much of it impacts people within the State of Illinois and it’s upon that principle that State Attorneys General can have standing in a case to reunify kids with their parents, because it would impact people who were within the State of Illinois.
Jon Amarilio: I imagine as a father that issue probably hit pretty close to home, right.
Kwame Raoul: As a father and as a child of immigrants, and what people don’t know because they figure it’s the border and it’s probably mostly people from Central American and Mexico, there’s a fair number of Haitians involved in that as well because after the Olympics and the World Cup, many Haitians went to Brazil to work in Haiti and they travelled through South America and Central America to get to the border.
So, my sister was advocate for undocumented immigrants who had been already involved at the border. So, I was aware of that, and so it kind of informed my posture as I spoke publicly about this. But, on a lot of fronts, yes, it is a balancing act because you also just have to take on the mundane task of being the managing partner of the law firm that represents the State of Illinois.
And so, some of the things that as I spoke to you earlier that I have practiced history on, doing workers’ compensation defense, negotiating labor contracts, defending employment litigation.
Jon Amarilio: My kind of handing.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, and in fact, I’ve got that experience to an extent that my opponents in the race don’t, so set aside our policy differences just —
Jon Amarilio: Opponents? What you said? Opponent?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, I’ve got a little bit —
Jon Amarilio: Oh Bubba.
Kwame Raoul: Bubba.
Jon Amarilio: Right.
Kwame Raoul: I can’t forget Bubba.
Jon Amarilio: 35:30 Illinois. Yeah, Bubba’s girlfriend is actually 35:32.
Kwame Raoul: Is that right?
Jon Amarilio: Yeah.
Kwame Raoul: I went down there for the fair.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah, right, that’s about — yes, they have —
Kwame Raoul: Don’t say it.
Jon Amarilio: Yeah, okay.
Kwame Raoul: But, Bubba is actually a nice guy but he’s a lawyer of two years.
Jon Amarilio: Right.
Kwame Raoul: My other opponent is a lawyer of 11 years and within that 11 years, she’s been with three different law firms, run for Congress twice, an Attorney General now. So, I don’t know how much practicing of law you get to do. I know she’s tried one case in —
Jon Amarilio: Her career? One case?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah. Bench trial. I have done jury trials both at federal court, state court, have been bunch of bench trials, I’ve tried cases before administrative tribunals, I’ve argued cases on appeal, I’ve negotiated contracts, I’ve got a broad practice experience.
So in terms of having the capacity to do the balancing that you suggest has to be done. I’ve got a practice history to combine with my policy making history of my 14 years in the Legislature that allows me to do that balancing act.
Jon Amarilio: So, now that you’ve mentioned your opponent, Erika Harold, the Republican candidate, that brings to mind something that I heard our Governor, Bruce Rauner say not too long ago, which was that if she won, he would hope that she would open up a corruption investigation into the Speaker of the Illinois House, Mike Madigan, and that caught my ear not so much because of the politics of it, which I don’t think we need to get into, but because of what we were just discussing about the role of the Attorney General because that sounded.
And yeah, I don’t believe at least that I’ve heard Ms. Harold has accepted that mission from him, but it raised the specter of what we’re seeing from certain sectors in Washington now, the idea of like political prosecutions and that alarmed me.
Kwame Raoul: It alarmed me as well and I can tell you that if it was somebody who’d been a major donor to me, who had made that comment, I would immediately say that isn’t, and very publicly say that is inappropriate. It is a very dangerous thing to say that we want to prop this person up to go after a political enemy.
Jon Amarilio: Right using the Attorney General’s office is a collateral, political —
Kwame Raoul: The Attorney General’s office should be a nonpartisan office, in terms of your functioning within the office. It ought not be one used for partisan purposes. I believe there was a Pennsylvania Attorney General who was indicted for — to be political with regards to the powers of the Attorney General’s office.
I’ve heard of political prosecutions that may or may not have taken place with regards to our current US Attorney General when he was at a more local level, just as one has to have faith in law enforcement and faith in the bench and the faith in the jury system, one has to really have faith in the Attorney General’s office and a local prosecutor’s office to be one to look at evidence and the law and make determinations as to whether to pursue prosecutions based on where evidence leads, not where one’s politics leads.
Jon Amarilio: And with that very ethical note, I think we’ll take our second break.
Kwame Raoul: Thank you.
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Jon Amarilio: And we’re back. Senator, I want to play a game with you that we play with all of our guests, it’s called Stranger than Legal Fiction. The rules are really straightforward. I’ve researched some Arcania from Illinois law, found a law that is real but weird, obscure, shouldn’t still be on the books but is and then I’ve just made another one up completely and your task today is to see if you can distinguish strange legal fact from fiction. Are you ready to play?
Kwame Raoul: Let’s go.
Jon Amarilio: All right. Option number one, in Decatur, Illinois it is illegal to drive a car without a steering wheel? All right?
Option number two, in Champaign, Illinois it is illegal to serve a carbonated alcoholic beverage after 11 p.m., what do you think?
Kwame Raoul: You got to believe that option number one is not a law.
Jon Amarilio: Why?
Kwame Raoul: How do you drive a – well, a car without a steering wheel?
Jon Amarilio: Yeah.
Kwame Raoul: I guess technology is evolving that you can, but —
Jon Amarilio: So, option number one is a fake one?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, I think so.
Jon Amarilio: Final answer?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah.
Jon Amarilio: Okay, option number one is the real one. Can you believe it? I didn’t have a chance to do all the research to find out why, but Steve and I, our sound guy were talking about this before, and I wonder if it doesn’t come from that time when you see like old timey movies and they are driving horseless carriages, right, and they’ve got the levers and — I don’t know, but that’s the real one, believe it or not.
Kwame Raoul: Yeah, I mean, when you think of it in the context of it being arcane it seems that it wouldn’t be likely responsive to new technology, right?
Jon Amarilio: Right, suddenly relevant I got it, right?
Kwame Raoul: Yeah.
Jon Amarilio: I think that’s all the time we’re going to have today. I want to thank our guest, Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul, for joining me today in what has been a truly fascinating discussion.
Good luck, sir.
Kwame Raoul: Thank you.
Jon Amarilio: I also want to thank everyone here at the CBA who makes this machine run, including most especially, our sound guy, Steve Weirich, this is his last episode today.
Steve, I want to thank you for all the work you’ve done this for a season of @theBar; it’s been fantastic. Also our Executive Producer, Jen Byrne.
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Young and young-ish lawyers have interesting and unscripted conversations with their guests about legal news, events, topics, stories and whatever else strikes our fancy.
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