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Inspector general pick likely has 2 key foes
COUNTY | Watchdog, anti-patronage crusader may see conflict if prosecutor hired: sources

Saturday, September 06, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County's hiring watchdog and the Chicago lawyer who crusaded against patronage are expected to object to Assistant State's Attorney Pat Blanchard's nomination as the county's independent inspector general, sources said.

Blanchard defended the county against attorney Michael Shakman's patronage-busting federal lawsuit, which ended in a settlement that will pay 105 county workers a total of $3.2 million.

Since Blanchard was picked as lead candidate for the inspector general job, questions have been raised about whether attorney-client privilege might hamper Blanchard's effectiveness investigating patronage involving Count Board President Todd Stroger's administration, sources said.

Even if Blanchard's appointment wins County Board approval, a little-known provision in the patronage lawsuit settlement could limit his powers. A footnote in the settlement permits Shakman to ask the county to appoint someone else to specifically investigate patronage complaints.

In fact, Shakman could ask a federal judge to appoint someone to act in that capacity. Cook County would have to pick up the tab.

Julia Nowicki, the federal court-appointed hiring watchdog, and Shakman both said they plan to testify at the Sept. 16 hearing regarding Blanchard's pending appointment, but neither would provide details of their objections.

"It's premature to make any comment," Nowicki said.

Blanchard -- who has contacted county commissioners to outline his plan for the inspector general -- told the Chicago Sun-Times he is aware of concerns about his appointment, but he's confident that he can be effective in the watchdog role.

Blanchard said his work defending Cook County during the Shakman case would not be a conflict if he were confirmed as inspector general.

"I represented Cook County government, which supports the ideals of [the] Shakman [settlement]," Blanchard said. "Any information I have learned representing Cook County could only be used to serve the benefit of the county. If I felt that I could not act independently and at all times follow the law, I would not be there."

As for Shakman's right to insist that a separate inspector general be appointed to investigate patronage, Blanchard said that should not be necessary.

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