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Shakman may play role in county inspector general selection

Saturday, September 06, 2008
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

It may become the footnote heard around Cook County.

An obscure bottom-of-the-page notation to a 2006 settlement decree the county signed, it turns out, could end up playing a role in who gets to be the Inspector General.

The current nominee, Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Patrick Blanchard, was picked by a five-member committee over two competitors: Joseph Ferguson of the U.S. attorney's office and Robert Williams, the deputy Inspector General of the Los Angeles school system.

The footnote is part of a "supplemental relief order," or SRO, that settled a lawsuit brought by attorney Michael Shakman against the county. Blanchard helped defend the county against that suit.

The SRO provides a hiring monitor to evaluate complaints of political hiring and promotion. That monitor, Julia Nowicki, just this week awarded up to $3.2 million to about 100 complainants.

The footnote, however, lays out what happens after Nowicki, who serves in a temporary capacity, is gone. After her departure, the Inspector General handles the cases.

"Should plaintiffs object to the individual serving as the (Inspector General's Office), the plaintiffs may suggest another individual or entity designated to administer post-(Supplemental Relief Order) complaint procedures," reads the footnote.

Whether Shakman and Nowicki object isn't known - the two declined to comment Friday. But county Commissioner Larry Suffredin, an Evanston Democrat in charge of the committee considering Blanchard's nomination Sept. 16, said some have suggested those making political hiring complaints might not feel comfortable coming to the lawyer who once defended Cook County in that very area.

He said he intends to explore that issue and the implications of the footnote during the hearing, as well as whether attorney-client privilege could be an issue. In attorney-client privilege, attorneys are barred from using information, gathered in confidence from a client, against that client's interest. Suffredin wonders if the board, as the embodiment of the county and Blanchard's client, would have to waive privilege to allow Blanchard to serve, or what the process for investigations would be in matters where Blanchard might have to recuse himself.

Blanchard, speaking on his own behalf and not as a county attorney, said he feels confident the concerns can be cleared up.

"To the extent that the SRO and footnote 1 allows a remedy for the plaintiffs to discuss the sitting IG, it's my belief that nothing stands in the way of (my) serving in the role of IG," he said.

Suffredin stressed he has heard only good things about Blanchard's character and skill, and that the only concerns stemmed from conflicts his former job with the county could play.

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