Devine: More money needed to keep office functioning
Saturday, January 21, 2006
by Jonathan Lipman
Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine said Friday he needs at least $2 million more in the 2006 county budget to keep his office functioning.
"Once again, we are being asked to take on major new responsibilities without any additional support," Devine told Cook County commissioners during a budget hearing Friday.
Devine said he has 34 fewer prosecutors in this budget than just three years ago. Combining those cuts with new duties, he estimates he needs money for 80 assistant state's attorneys.
The 2006 budget, scheduled for a vote next month, would raise the county tax on cigarettes from $1 a pack to $2 and will cut 82 vacant positions from the county's 25,400-person work force.
The biggest new burden for prosecutors is a new state law that requires police to videotape all murder interrogations, Devine said. Previously, only the confession was videotaped.
Devine said his prosecutors have to witness the entire interrogation, which can stretch two days in some cases, instead of the hourlong confession.
"The interrogation becomes the confession," Devine said. "We have to be there if we want to submit it in court, if we want to do our jobs."
Other money was needed to increase training budgets and the $100,000 office supply budget, Devine said, which he noted was a fraction of the $1.3 million on office supplies spent by the similar-sized Los Angeles prosecution office.
Devine's complaints about the budget earned a biting rebuke from County Board President John Stroger, who said he has always valued the prosecutor's office and he was "concerned" with the way it handled the case of Shirley Glover, a county employee charged with stealing $180,000 from the county.
"We ask that she be prosecuted," Stroger said. "And I end up with a state's attorney and a group of people beating up on me."
Some of Devine's prosecutors alleged two of Stroger's chief aides installed Glover in her county job over the objection of department heads. Their investigation continues and is probing how and why Glover was hired despite her criminal record.
Devine said the office has succeeded in reducing the backlog of cases that was leading to long waits for trial for many defendants. The number of cases still pending after two years has dropped from 1,015 to 733 in the past year, he said.
The office's most important case in 2005 was the successful prosecution of Sauk Village School District 168 Supt. Thomas Ryan, Devine said.
The office launched the probe after a series of stories by the Daily Southtown highlighting Ryan's financial misdeeds and questionable spending practices.
Ryan pleaded guilty in November to stealing up to $100,000 from the district and is serving an eight-year prison term. He agreed to pay $400,000 restitution.
"That money was needed for the children," Devine said.