Federal judge pushes Cook County to give arrested youth prompt hearing

Failing to fix Cook County’s practice of holding youth excessively long post-arrest would be “catastrophic,” Judge Thomas Durkin warned.

A federal judge Tuesday described it as “mind-boggling” that Cook County routinely jails juveniles on weekends and holidays without bringing them before a judge.

At the first hearing for a new lawsuit that says this practice is unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin said it is “counter-intuitive” that adults arrested in Cook County get a speedy hearing, while juveniles arrested on weekends do not. Adult bond court, unlike those for juveniles, is held seven days a week.

“It’s going to be catastrophic, if it hasn’t happened already, when one of these kids is picked up on Friday night, gets a hearing on Tuesday morning and got assaulted over the weekend,” Durkin said.

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During the hearing, Durkin approved a request from the attorneys for defendants Chief Judge Timothy Evans and Leonard Dixon, the superintendent of the juvenile detention center, to give them a week to figure out “how exactly we should be handling this,” Attorney General Thomas Ioppolo said. The next hearing is set for Sept. 20.

The parents of four unnamed teenagers filed the lawsuit last week. Their complaint contends that by neglecting to hold prompt probable-cause hearings for minors jailed on weekends and holidays, Evans, Dixon and Cook County are violating the juveniles’ constitutional rights. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that people arrested without a warrant must be brought before a judge within 48 hours. In 2012, the Justice Department held that the two-day window also applies to juveniles.

The Illinois statute requires that minors see a judge within 40 hours of arrest, but gives an exception: “exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays and court-designated holidays.” That statute, Durkin noted during Tuesday’s hearing, allows – but does not require – juvenile courts to be closed on non-business days. And while state lawmakers attempted to change that policy this year, their legislation died in the Senate.

“If a juvenile gets picked up on a Friday night … and if you have a Monday holiday, for instance, which happens, they don’t get before a judge until Tuesday, which is mind-boggling to me when adults who are less fragile get before a judge more quickly,” Durkin said.

Adele Nicholas, the youths’ attorney,  said she had been wondering for months, “How is this even happening?” If an adult is arrested “anywhere in Cook County you’re going to get a bond hearing the next day,” Nicholas said. “That doesn’t happen for kids, which we see as a huge problem, and it seems like Judge Durkin does, too.”

Spokespeople for the district attorney’s office and the chief judge’s office both declined to comment, citing office policy against commenting on pending litigation.

After granting the attorneys another week to consider how to handle the lawsuit, Durkin left the defense with a final thought: “I think you know my feelings on this,” he said.