Cook County Judge Clancy still often setting money bond

Despite an order by the chief judge to take defendants' ability to pay into account when setting bail, Judge Michael R. Clancy still often sets unaffordable bonds. He is one of 59 judges running for retention this fall.

This article was co-published by the Chicago Sun-Times.

When Cook County’s chief judge announced last year that judges who preside over bail hearings would be required to take financial circumstances into account in deciding bail, the order was a victory for a coalition of activists and public officials.

They’d pushed for reform of a cash-bond system they said packed the Cook County Jail and too often left poor and minority defendants locked up while awaiting trial even for minor charges.

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Headshot of Judge Michael Clancy

Cook County Judge Michael Clancy

One year after Chief Judge Timothy Evans’s order took effect, one of the judges Evans moved to bond court as part of his reforms continues to set bail beyond defendants’ ability to pay in more than one in four cases, according to a new report by the Coalition to End Money Bond.

Judge Michael R. Clancy has veered from the chief judge’s order more often than the other five judges in bond court, where defendants make their initial court appearances.

Sharlyn Grace, co-executive director of coalition member Chicago Community Bond Fund, calls Clancy’s practice of setting unaffordable bails “indefensible.”

Clancy, who didn’t respond to requests for comment, is among 59 Cook County judges who will be on the November ballot seeking six-year terms.

In a new evaluation, the Chicago Council of Lawyers—among the lawyers groups that make recommendations on whether judges should be retained—found Clancy “qualified” for retention, even though it noted the judge departs from Evans’s order more often than his colleagues. The council wrote that the bail-reform order has “been in place for less than one year” and said it “urges Judge Clancy to reconsider his actions, but we also recognize that he has received good marks as a judge in his previous assignments.”

Before Evans’s order took effect in September 2017, the Cook County Jail was crowded with thousands of defendants who remained locked up before trial even for nonviolent offenses.

Evans’s order requires felony bond court judges to make a determination on whether a suspect is dangerous. If not, but if a judge believes a suspect shouldn’t be released on nothing more than a promise of returning to court for trial, bail is supposed to be set at an amount a defendant can afford. Under the chief judge’s order, those considered dangerous should be held without bail.

“The net result would be no one would be held pretrial based upon an inability to pay,” Evans said when he announced his order.

The move came amid a push for bail reform that had the backing of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Sheriff Tom Dart, Public Defender Amy Campanelli and State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, in addition to activist groups who complained the bail system was unfair.

Before being shifted to bond court at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, Clancy was assigned to the domestic violence division of the court system. He was appointed to the bench by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2011 and elected in 2012. Previously, he was an assistant state’s attorney for 12 years and spent 10 years in private law practice.

According to the Chicago Council of Lawyers, when he heard domestic violence cases, Clancy “was praised for his legal knowledge and his ability to apply facts to the law. He was praised for being thorough in his legal analysis and for being fair and respectful to all parties.”

Injustice Watch interns Rachel Kim and Abigail Bazin contributed reporting.