Top juvenile court judge still blocking motions despite new emergency order

Presiding Judge Michael Toomin continues to vet and reject detention review motions from juveniles, despite an order from the chief judge that all detention reviews be heard.

Presiding Judge Michael Toomin is still blocking detention review motions from juvenile defendants, despite an order from Chief Judge Timothy Evans on Friday requiring that all such motions be heard.

Toomin’s chief legal officer said Evans’ order scaling back the courts during the COVID-19 pandemic gives Toomin the authority to vet motions before they are filed to determine if they are emergencies. But public defenders and other judges say Toomin, who presides over the juvenile justice division, is misinterpreting the chief judge’s order.

The “modifications issued Friday, May 1st, did not change the earlier provision stating that determinations of emergency matters shall be made by the presiding judges,” said Diane Walsh, Toomin’s chief legal officer, in an email.

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On Friday, after Injustice Watch and the Chicago Tribune reported that Toomin was blocking some motions for detention review, Evans added language to his original order specifying that “juvenile detention hearings, including all motions to review detention, and other emergency matters, will be conducted daily.” But public defenders said this week that Judge Toomin is still pre-screening motions they filed and rejecting the same detention review motions as before.

“The amended order made it even more clear that detention reviews shall be heard, period,” said Peter Parry, deputy of county operations for the Public Defender’s Office. “[Toomin] doesn’t get to decide which are appropriate and not appropriate for review.”

Toomin is also blocking motions asking that youth who have been compliant with electronic monitoring be released, Parry said. Typically, he said, youth are released from electronic monitoring after complying with the conditions for two or three weeks. As of Saturday, 63 juveniles had been compliant for at least three weeks, and some as long as 90 days, Parry said.

Three judges who spoke with Injustice Watch on the condition of anonymity to discuss a colleague’s conduct said judges in other divisions of the court are not vetting motions before they are filed. They said they interpreted Evans’ order to mean that presiding judges can determine when an in-person hearing should take place at a time when nearly all court proceedings are happening via videoconference, not whether a motion should be heard at all.

“I certainly did not interpret it the way he’s interpreting it,” one judge said. Another did not believe they had the jurisdictional authority to tell an attorney what they can or cannot file.

The relevant section of Evans’ order says “judges will be available in person in each division and district to hear emergency matters, as determined by the Presiding Judge of the respective division or district.”

Toomin’s decision to pre-screen motions means there is no court record and, therefore, no grounds for appeal if a motion is denied a hearing, defense attorneys said. Motions filed by prosecutors have not been subject to the same review, a spokesperson for the State’s Attorney’s Office said in an email.

A spokesman for Evans would not say whether Toomin is misinterpreting the chief judge’s amended order. Instead, he said Tuesday that defense attorneys’ motions are being heard.

Parry said the public defender’s office is going to raise the issue directly with Toomin later this week.

“I’m sure we’ll have a little tousle this week over how cases should be heard,” he said.

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