By BETH HUNDSDORFER
Capitol News Illinois
Gov. JB Pritzker on Friday, April 8, named a former Cook County judge and the chief of staff of his Republican predecessor to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.
Both of those appointees, ex-Cook County Judge Robin Shoffner and Republican former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s chief of staff Rodger Heaton, passed unanimously through committee on Friday night and received full Senate approval in the early hours of Saturday morning along with two other appointees who were awaiting action.
Appointees to the PRB have drawn heavy Republican scrutiny in the past year as the Senate delayed hearing several of Pritzker’s appointees to the board that determines the release conditions of those held in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Last month, two appointees, Jeff Mears and Eleanor Kaye Wilson, failed to win Senate approval. A third appointee, Oreal James, resigned. Those members had received scrutiny for granting release to convicted killers of law enforcement officers or other controversial parole actions.
Pritzker also pulled the appointment of Max Cerda, a convicted murder, after it appeared it would not have the votes to win Senate approval.
Criminal justice advocates and Pritzker had warned that the dysfunction at the board would cause it to be unable to serve important functions, including determining whether to revoke parole, as the board lacked the quorum needed to act.
Those failed confirmations, coupled with the pulled appointment and resignation, led to postponement of the April clemency docket. As of Friday, the PRB website said it had been postponed until May 26, as the addition of the two members will bring the board up to the eight members needed for a quorum.
Heaton served from 2005 to 2009 as U.S. Attorney for Central District of Illinois after he was appointed by President George W. Bush. In 2015, Heaton joined the Rauner administration where he served as homeland security advisor and director of public safety before becoming chief of staff in 2017. Heaton graduated from the University of Illinois and Indiana University School of Law.
Shoffner is a partner in the Chicago law firm of Nathan & Kamionski. She served several years as a civil trial judge in Cook County. She also served as a trial attorney for the city of Chicago. Shoffner has an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and a law degree from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. She was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1990.
Shoffner will fill the vacancy of former Prisoner Review Board member Virginia Martinez, a Rauner appointee.
Heaton will replace Joseph Ruggiero. Last month, Pritzker pulled the appointment of Ruggiero for the second time before a Senate confirmation vote. Ruggiero, 62, served for three years after his appointment by Rauner.
Three board members – LeAnn Miller, Jared Bohland and Ken Tupy – were still awaiting Senate approval before Friday. Tupy and Bohland were recommended by the Senate Executive Appointments Committee unanimously and were approved with Heaton and Shoffner early Saturday. Miller was previously recommended by the committee but did not receive a vote Saturday.
One of Pritzker’s most vocal critics on the PRB issue, Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, said in a statement released on Friday that the PRB is a critical to Illinois’ public safety and he’s glad to see the vacancies addressed.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.