Thursday, December 24, 2009

Courthouses to remain open on weekends, at least for the time being, Evans says

Perhaps some people think the only place where crime occurs is on the South Side of Chicago and in those suburbs that happen to surround it.

That was the impression I got from learning of a plan desired by the Cook County sheriff’s police to shut down the bulk of the courthouses based in the suburbs. Sheriff Tom Dart justifies the change as a cost-cutting move, saying he could get away with less staff if the courthouses in Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Maywood and Bridgeview didn’t have to be open on Saturday and Sunday.

FOR THE MOST part, they’re not. But invariably, there is crime committed Friday and Saturday nights, which means that bond hearings have to be held. That means a judge, his clerk and the deputies needed for security, have to be on call for the weekend.

Either that, or else those defendants would wind up having to sit in a holding cell at a local police station for several days until a Monday court hearing could be held.

That would be a financial burden for the local cops (whose cells are set up to accommodate a person for a couple of hours before he is transferred elsewhere) and for the judges who would have to preside over extremely long Monday dockets.

So I was glad to learn that Chief Judge Timothy Evans (who I still think of as the former alderman who was the first loser to Richard M. Daley for mayor of Chicago) sent Dart a letter this week telling him to forget (for now, at least) any talk of shutting down those courthouses.

“SERIOUS ISSUES OF public safety, due process and court administration have been raised that I believe deserve attention,” Evans wrote in his letter to Dart, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Those issues include what struck me as an obvious flaw up front about Dart’s proposal – the logistics of expecting that the county could do without those four courthouses in operation for the weekend.

For Dart’s proposal would not have left Chicago and its inner suburbs courthouse-less on weekends.

The county court’s first district (which is the city of Chicago proper) and it’s sixth district (the south suburbs, with a courthouse in Markham) would have remained open.

DOES THIS MEAN Dart (who early in his legal career was an assistant state’s attorney assigned to the courthouse in Markham) really thinks all the crime is concentrated on the South Side? That somehow, the north and west portions of Cook County have no need for a judge to hand down those rulings determining just how much money someone’s family has to come up with in order to keep their loved one from spending the next few months in Cook County Jail while awaiting trial?

I’d like to think Dart, who earlier this year was extremely critical of state officials for being shortsighted enough to think that video poker revenues would resolve the state’s financial problems, hasn’t suddenly fallen victim to similar shortsightedness.

Somehow, I don’t think all those northern, northwestern and western suburbs get that peaceful on the weekends. Nor do I think their local law enforcement officials want to have to take the added time to haul their defendants into the city to achieve Justice through a court hearing.

Part of the reason Cook County’s court system is broken up into the six districts is because there is just too much potential for overload at the Chicago courthouses if they tried to do all the work there.

AND WOULD THIS mean that some of those city cases would wind up getting shuffled down to Markham tp make room for all those northwest suburban “criminals” who now need to take up court space in Chicago?

It just seems to me that this is one of those necessary expenses that we’re going to have to live with.

After all, Thursday in Chicago is another one of those furlough days – a cost-cutting measure by which city employees will not get paid. So they’re not going to work. They get the day off and most city services will not be available.

But even with the concept of furloughs, police and fire department officials are still expected to work.

THINKING THAT THE county could shut down the bond court on Saturday and Sunday in Maywood or Skokie is about as short-sighted as thinking that the Belmont District or the Calumet Area of the Chicago Police could suddenly use some time off in order to save the government a few bucks.

It just doesn’t work that way.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is trying to portray the county’s chief judge as irresponsible ( for not going along with his desire to shut down some of the suburban courthouses on weekends.

It’s a four-day (,0,3070094.story) holiday weekend for City Hall workers – or more like five days for those municipal employees who just slacked off on the job on Wednesday.

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