Cook County Chief Judge sues County Board over budget

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UPDATE (12/1/17, 1:30 pm): At a hearing on Friday morning presided over by Lake County Judge Mitchell L. Hoffman, the case was continued until Tuesday, Dec. 5. The continuance will enable the Cook County Board to obtain outside counsel, as it is a conflict for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to represent the County in this case. The first round of layoffs for non-union employees is scheduled for Dec. 8; Judge Evans is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the layoffs before then. 

Cook County’s Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans filed suit against the Cook County Board Thursday, contending the budget cuts would require laying off 161 court employees and put in jeopardy recent efforts to revamp the county’s bail system.

The lawsuit was filed after the court’s presiding judges met this week and agreed to an order stating the cutbacks have “seriously impaired” the court’s ability to carry out the new bail system that began in September designed to ensure that suspects did not remain in the Cook County Jail awaiting trial only because they were poor and lacked the funds to be set free.

The cutbacks were enacted by the County Board of Commissioners after a controversial soda tax was repealed.

The lawsuit, brought by state Attorney General Lisa Madigan on behalf of Evans, asks for an order that would require the county to adequately fund the court as well as the sheriff, the public defender and the clerk’s office.

Evans asks in the suit that an out of county judge be appointed to hear the case.

The circuit court is bearing the brunt of the layoffs countywide, according to the lawsuit. While the court makes up just 5.6 percent of the total budget, it is required to execute 50 percent of the layoffs countywide.

Of particular note is the impact of the cuts on efforts to reduce the number of suspects arrested on nonviolent charges who are held for lengthy periods of time awaiting trial. Evans had sought 99 new pretrial employees to help identify suspects who may pose a danger if released, and to help those released show up at required at court hearings.

Many of those released from jail are sent home on electronic monitoring, and the lawsuit contends that the budget cuts would “gravely impair” if not end the program of home confinement. Without an adequate supervision of the home confinement program, “the public is placed in increased risk of harm,” the lawsuit states.

Ironically, many public officials including county board president Toni Preckwinkle had pushed for bail reform that would keep fewer suspects held before trial. Preckwinkle, who had been an advocate of the soda tax, is personally named in the lawsuit, as is County Treasurer Maria Pappas, who is responsible for paying the cost of operations.

The lawsuit comes little more than a week after Evans pleaded with the Cook County Board that that the cuts would greatly impact the ability of the court to function.

The general order, approved by the presiding judges, outlined the impacts of the budget cuts: the elimination of five of the six adult probation cashiers who process collections including crime victim restitution, the elimination of two of five home confinement supervisors tasked with overseeing three 24 hour shifts daily, and the “serious” impairment of the duties required at the county’s Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.

A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Friday morning.

Injustice Watch reporting fellow Olivia Stovicek contributed reporting. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story’s update incorrectly stated the name of the presiding judge. He is Judge Mitchell L. Hoffman.