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Tell it to the judge

Sunday, November 13, 2005
Chicago Tribune

Back in September, Cook County commissioners met for the first time since the Tribune editorial board had detailed massive problems at the county's Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. The response: Defensiveness, personal insults and self-righteous rhetoric pinballed around the room for six hours.

The few commissioners who tried to engage in a real discussion about the dangerous, wasteful and dispiriting conditions at the center were hooted down.

"Stop talking about hacks and all that stuff," County Board President John Stroger snapped. "Practically everybody in here has been helped by somebody."

Commissioner Joan Murphy worried about hurting the feelings of the center's workers. Commissioner Deborah Sims griped that all the debate was delaying her lunch.

Well, there's going to be another debate soon about the detention center, and that kind of nonsense won't be tolerated.

County commissioners and other officials with responsibility for the detention center have been summoned to appear before U.S. District Judge John Nordberg on Jan. 11. They are being hauled into court to explain why conditions at the center are so awful. Nordberg is the judge in a class-action lawsuit brought against Cook County by the American Civil Liberties Union regarding poor conditions at the center.

In court last Thursday, Nordberg expressed dismay at reports of continuing problems and demanded that county officials give him a written response within a month. Nordberg said he wanted all county officials overseeing the center, including board commissioners and Stroger, to appear before him on the January date to explain their failure to correct the problems.

Commissioner Michael Quigley, one of a handful of board members advocating an overhaul of the detention center, expressed understandable frustration that the board has been so incapable of fixing its own mess that a federal judge has to step in and do it.

"We're so inept," Quigley said, "the judiciary is going to be running Cook County before long."

Will it come to that?

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