Squad car video shows now-former prosecutor Sarah Naughton in handcuffs the night she was arrested. / Photo courtesy Cook County state’s attorney’s office
Sarah Naughton’s interactions with police haven’t always been so pleasant.
Back in September 2012 – while Naughton was a prosecutor, employed by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office – she was arrested by Chicago police for an off-duty incident that followed a day of drinking and involved a scuffle with a North Side shopkeeper. While detained, Naughton called an officer a series of obscene and insensitive names, slipped out of handcuffs while inside a squad car, swatted at a cop and kicked at the vehicle’s window, according to records and interviews.
The case drew a fair amount of attention because part of the incident was caught on video and posted on YouTube, where at last count there were more than 67,000 views and roughly 100 comments. Another video – from inside the squad car – surfaced later, during Naughton’s 2013 trial, at which a judge acquitted Naughton of every charge, including resisting a peace officer, attempted official misconduct and battery. She left the state’s attorney’s office shortly thereafter.
The acquittal left a sour taste in the mouths of some. But Naughton – who has family connections to Ed Vrdolyak and the South Side Joyce clan – apparently hasn’t soured on police.
We learned she recently inquired about getting hired at the Cook County sheriff’s office – which runs Cook County Jail, provides courtroom security and includes a patrol division – and even met with sheriff’s officials on two occasions to talk potential employment.
It’s worth noting she’s job-hunting for a taxpayer-funded position while another public agency, the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, or ARDC, has a pending misconduct case against her stemming from the 2012 incident.
There are ethics rules that attorneys in Illinois are supposed to abide by, set forth by the Illinois Supreme Court. And the ARDC investigates breaches and can seek discipline for violators – up to and including suspension of law licenses, taking away the ability of attorneys to work as attorneys.
An ARDC document indicates Naughton – in spite of her acquittal, which the judge said was based on the evidence and questionable testimony – still committed crimes during the 2012 incident, and in the process violated rules governing attorneys.
In a document Naughton submitted in response to the ARDC claims, she contests many of the allegations. She wouldn’t comment to us.
Things should come to a head with the ARDC in coming months.
Meantime, what’s going on with the sheriff’s office?
Cara Smith, an aide to Sheriff Tom Dart, confirmed that Naughton came by the sheriff’s office twice in late 2014 to chat about employment opportunities. Smith said, “I’m not sure I’d call it an interview” but rather a “meet and greet.”
“I think she was trying to figure out what she wanted to do,” Smith said. “She didn’t come in interested in a specific job” but indeed was interested in employment.
Either way, Naughton was not hired for anything.
Was Favoritism Shown?
With the ARDC matter as a backdrop, we took a deeper look at Naughton’s background and found curiosities that spanned the time she was hired by the state’s attorney’s office to the time she left there days after her acquittal.
Although she could have been fired by State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez following the 2012 arrest, Naughton instead was put on paid desk duty.
Alvarez’s first assistant state’s attorney, Dan Kirk, wouldn’t comment on many specifics related to Naughton, but said the agency, in general, maintains “a strong belief in due process,” allowing court proceedings to play out when possible before personnel decisions are made.
We also discovered that while Naughton was on desk duty – in fact, on one of the very days Naughton was at her own trial – Alvarez wrote Naughton a glowing letter, thanking her for “volunteering” to write an appellate brief and giving her 16 hours of compensatory time. “I appreciate your willingness to seek the responsibility of work that is in addition to the daily responsibilities of your current assignment as an Assistant State’s Attorney,” Alvarez wrote in the letter, which we recently obtained.
Kirk said that was a standard letter to any prosecutor who helped out on the backlog of briefs. Alvarez wouldn’t talk to us.
Meanwhile, following Naughton’s acquittal (the Illinois attorney general prosecuted the case because of the obvious conflict of interest with the state’s attorney’s office) Alvarez’s office said Naughton was returning to regular duty. A FOX 32 reporter asked how she’d be able to work with police from here on given the second video – from inside a squad car – showed Naughton slipping out of cuffs the night she was arrested, taking a swipe at a cop and kicking at the squad car window. An Alvarez spokeswoman said the office hadn’t known about that video. Later that day Naughton submitted a resignation letter; Alvarez’s office said she was “terminated.”
Before Naughton was hired as a prosecutor in 2008 in the waning days of Richard Devine’s tenure as state’s attorney, she held clerical jobs with the state’s attorney’s office.
In one such clerical job, one of the references listed on Naughton’s application was Daniel Joyce, who we’re told is the son of political powerbroker Jeremiah Joyce, a close ally of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Aside from coming from a clout-heavy family, Daniel Joyce was convicted in a 1980s drug case, and his defense attorney in that case was Devine, who would later become state’s attorney until retiring in 2008 when Alvarez took over.
Daniel Joyce declined to comment. Devine told us, “I don’t recall ever talking to Dan Joyce about” Naughton’s employment.
Naughton’s father Gino Naughton said Daniel Joyce ended up as a reference because he is his long-time friend and “a wonderful man.”
Meanwhile, Gino Naughton once worked for the law firm of Vrdolyak, a former Chicago alderman and political powerhouse. And Sarah Naughton worked there as well while in high school – before getting a taxpayer-subsidized General Assembly college scholarship through a local legislator, according to Naughton’s resume, which we obtained from the state’s attorney’s office under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Such scholarships were eliminated in recent years after questions were raised about clout-heavy kids – including children of political donors – getting these tuition waivers while many regular taxpayers were left in the cold.
Gino Naughton is a former Cook County prosecutor and a former judicial candidate. At one time he helped oversee Vrdolyak’s campaign fund. Vrdolyak, who more recently was convicted in a corruption case and did time in a federal prison, didn’t return our calls.
So what does all this mean?
At the very least it raises questions about whether politics or connections played a role in how Sarah Naughton was treated by the state’s attorney’s office, more recently under Alvarez.
“Two words: Absolutely not,” Kirk said. “Nor should politics ever enter into any employment-related decision.”
This column – a regular feature called The Public Eye, appearing on the Chicago Sun-Times web site – was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Robert Herguth and Patrick Rehkamp. They can be reached at email@example.com or (312) 821-9030.