Trying to forecast which man or woman will become the next U.S. attorney in northern Illinois is like predicting next year's Oscar nominations. The front-runner might not even be known yet. But with Patrick Fitzgerald's last day coming next month, in Chicago legal circles, there are several names that repeatedly come up.
Fitzgerald summoned the entire staff of the federal prosecutor's office to the ceremonial courtroom Wednesday morning to announce his departure resulting in a standing ovation, having broken the news to his inner circle just a few minutes earlier. While his leaving office after 11 years of major victories isn't particularly surprising, the suddenness of his coming departure caught many off guard.
Current and former prosecutors from the U.S. attorney's office, and some defense lawyers who work the Dirksen Federal Building, started discussing Fitzgerald's possible successor months ago.
"I would be shocked if they didn't pick an Illinois attorney," said Defense Attorney Michael Monico.
That statement from longtime defense attorney and one-time prosecutor Monico was repeated Wednesday by nearly everyone the I-Team spoke with-- even though Fitzgerald himself was from New York and stunned the Chicago legal community when he was tapped in 2001.
The three most cited candidates to replace Fitzgerald in our conversations Wednesday are:
- Patrick Collins (2-1 odds), who led the bribes-for-license case including the prosecution of former Governor George Ryan, and he chaired a state blue-ribbon panel on ethics reform. He is now in private practice.
- Lori Lightfoot (3-1 odds), a former assistant U.S. attorney and city attorney. She is now in private practice.
- Andrea Zopp (3-1 odds), a former assistant federal prosecutor, prominent corporate lawyer and now head of the Urban League.
In the I-Team's very unofficial odds, those are the top three possibilities, followed by several other former assistant U.S. attorneys and two long shots whose names frequently come up, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who is said to be close politically with Senator Dick Durbin.
The nominee is Senator Durbin's, and even though Patrick Fitzgerald's departure just became known Wednesday, we have learned Democratic and Republican operatives have quietly been making phone calls to some names on the list inquiring of their interest.
Of the three most-mentioned names, Zopp declined comment; Lightfoot said consideration would be an honor, especially since a woman or person of color has never been U.S. attorney, and Pat Collins says he disputes that he is the frontrunner at all.
Fitzgerald's press conference will be streamed live on abc7chicago.com
Keep in mind, wagering is illegal in Illinois.
STATEMENT FROM LORI LIGHTFOOT, POSSIBLE U.S. ATTORNEY CANDIDATE:
"I, like many people, was surprised to learn that Pat Fitzgerald has decided to retire. He has left an incredible legacy and enriched the office in countless ways and I was honored to serve under him.
"I have been very flattered by the calls of support I have received from many quarters today. The possibility of seeking the honor to serve the citizens of this district as the US Attorney is not one that I would ever consider lightly. I am obviously aware of the fact that no woman or person of color has ever been picked to serve as the US Attorney. Before I would consider presenting my credentials, I would confer with my family and close friends. Today though is a time to honor Pat and all of his many accomplishments."