Cook County Board of Review commissioner under investigation for potential ethics violation

Cook County Board of Review commissioner under investigation for potential ethics violation

Ethics officials are petitioning the Cook County Circuit Court to enforce a subpoena seeking information on potential profits obtained by Commissioner Larry Rogers from his law firm’s lawsuits against Cook County government.

The Cook County Board of Ethics is trying to put some teeth behind a subpoena the board issued to look into whether a Cook County Board of Review commissioner has been profiting from lawsuits against county government.

Specifically, Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr., 3rd District, is under investigation by county ethics officials who are looking into whether Rogers has profited from his law firm’s suits against Cook County, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune explains that a representative of the ethics panel filed a petition in the Cook County Circuit Court on Aug. 23 to enforce a subpoena asking for a “breakdown of compensation” for Rogers from his law firm, going back to January 2014.

In addition to his position on the Cook County Board of Review, Rogers is also a trial lawyer and partner in the law firm Power, Rogers & Smith LLP. Power, Rogers & Smith attorneys have sued Cook County government institutions on multiple occasions in a variety of cases ranging from alleged medical malpractice at Cook County Hospital to wrongful death suits, winning millions of dollars from the county over the years.

If Rogers took a cut of those profits, “such representation would violate several provisions of county code, including an outright prohibition on such representations by county elected officials … and breach a county elected official’s fiduciary duty to Cook County,” according to the petition.

The Tribune reports Cook County ethics officials say Power, Rogers & Smith has not complied with two subpoenas issued on behalf of the ethics panel; Power, Rogers & Smith’s attorneys claim the panel has no right to the firm’s private information.

The ethics panel sent its first subpoena to Power, Rogers & Smith after the Tribune revealed in September 2016 that then-candidate, now-State’s Attorney Kim Foxx was performing consulting work for Rogers’ law firm. The panel sent the second subpoena in February 2017, according to the Tribune.

The Tribune noted that one of the firm’s attorneys claims the panel has no right to the information, and that details about Rogers’ relationship with Power, Rogers & Smith were already disclosed in a previous interview in which it was established that Rogers did not have an equity interest in the firm until September 2016.

“We haven’t reached a conclusion on the underlying ethics investigation,” Cook County Board of Ethics Executive Director Ranjit Hakim told the Tribune. “[B]ut we’re getting stymied on getting some of the information that would get us to that point.”

Rogers is not the first Cook County Board of Review commissioner to face public scrutiny. During his time as a commissioner, now-Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios raised nearly $1 million in campaign donations from 15 law firms that handle property tax appeals. And Illinois State Board of Elections records show that since 2012, Berrios’ campaign funds have taken more than $1.9 million in donations from law firms that handle property tax appeals, according to CBS 2 Chicago. Critics have said this state of affairs is a conflict of interests. Berrios is also the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Ethics officials should not be stopped from concluding their investigation into whether Rogers profited from his firm’s litigation against the county he serves as a Board of Review commissioner. Officeholders at all levels of government should be held accountable, and officials charged with policing the activities of politicians should have the necessary tools to be effective watchdogs.

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