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Commissioners may testify at juvenile center hearing

Friday, November 11, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times
by ABDON M. PALLASCH Legal Affairs Reporter

A federal judge said Thursday he envisions a full-blown courtroom hearing with members of the Cook County Board called on to testify about how conditions got to be as bad as they allegedly are at the county's juvenile detention center.

"Members of the Cook County Board, members of the committees assigned to [the center] and various witnesses that have personal knowledge of the operations that have been presented here can appear and testify under oath," U.S. District Judge John A. Nordberg said.

The American Civil Liberties Union has asked Nordberg to appoint a manager to draw up and impose a plan to fix things at the center, where they say teens being held are subjected to abuse from each other and even from staff.

'I expect an explanation'

The ACLU filed suit six years ago and for the last three years has had an agreement under which independent monitors keep an eye on the system. But abuses continue and county administrators do nothing to improve conditions, ACLU Attorney Benjamin Wolf said.

Nordberg told county attorneys he wants a written response to the charges the ACLU has made.

"I expect an explanation as to why problems have not been solved already," Nordberg said.

County attorney Patrick Lynch said conditions at the center are not as bad as the ACLU charges and are improving. Newly appointed center Supervisor Jerry Robinson and his superior, county Public Safety Director J.W. Fairman, also complained the ACLU failed to note improvements at the center.

In response to ACLU charges that a counselor kicked a teen in the mouth, knocking his teeth out, Lynch said the counselor had been fired. Fairman and Robinson refused to divulge the counselor's name, though Fairman said criminal charges were brought against him. He was not convicted, however.

The Chicago Sun-Times has reported a disproportionate number of employees at the center, especially in the highest-paid posts, have political or family ties to County Board President John Stroger or his friends.


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