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Devine: More money needed to view interrogations

Monday, January 23, 2006
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by Stephanie Potter

Cook County State's Attorney Richard A. Devine on Friday said he needs at least $2 million more in his 2006 budget to meet the demand for handling videotaped interviews with homicide suspects.

Devine, appearing before the Cook County Board's Finance Committee, set the $2 million figure as the start-up costs for the taping.

Under state law, mandatory videotaping of police interrogations in homicide cases went into effect in July. In a written statement to commissioners, Devine said he supports the idea of videotaping, but the state provided no resources to pay for it.

In an interview Friday afternoon, Devine's chief of staff, Adrienne D. Mebane, said the law has meant substantially more time at the police station for assistant state's attorneys, who formerly would come in to view confessions.

Now, to determine if a case should go forward, a prosecutor could have to be at the station for entire interrogations that can last as many as 40 hours or longer. The office also must transcribe the recorded interviews, which takes about eight hours for every hour of video, according to Devine's statement.

Mebane said the start-up costs of $2 million include about $900,000 for technology upgrades, with the rest for personnel costs.

''There is no place else within our budget where we can find these funds,'' Mebane said.

Budgets are tight for many county offices in the $3.1 billion budget proposed by Board President John H. Stroger Jr, who is not seeking a property tax increase.

In his budget address in December, Stroger said he initially projected a $307 million deficit for the county in 2006 and told his finance team to make cuts to help close the gap.

Complicating the situation further, the county is under pressure to come up with funding for 250 correctional officers under a consent decree entered in a federal lawsuit over jail staffing. U.S. District Judge George M. Marovich has asked the board to take action before a Feb. 22 teleconference with the commissioners.

To come up with the estimated $7.1 million required to fund the correctional officers, Republican Commissioner Carl R. Hansen has sponsored a resolution to bump up projected revenues in the circuit clerk's and treasurer's offices.

That resolution is pending.

John Gibson, deputy press secretary for Stroger, said Stroger submitted a balanced budget, as is required by law.

''Any adjustments that need to be made or implemented to address unfunded mandates such as videotaping will be made,'' Gibson said.

In regard to the videotaping, Mebane described the $2 million as a ''bare bones'' figure and said a specialized unit to handle the recorded interrogations could cost as much as $5 million.

A lack of money for video interrogations wasn't the only complaint Devine had about his proposed $94.8 million general fund budget, which was about $800,000 less than last year.

He also asked for $89,000 to bump up starting salaries for prosecutors to be competitive with neighboring DuPage and Lake County's, which Devine said pay $48,000 annually. The starting salary for a Cook County assistant state's attorney is $43,000.

Mebane, who does exit interviews for the office, said the majority of prosecutors who don't leave because of a relocation or family obligations leave because of salary.

''We have lost a number of people to the city and state because they can receive better salaries,'' Mebane said.

Devine also criticized his proposed $100,000 budget for office supplies, one-quarter of what the office spent last year.

''That means that soon after the budget is passed, we will run out of funds for these basic needs,'' Devine said in his written statement.

Devine also called it ''an interesting bit of timing'' that his office's training budget was cut from $30,000 to $20,000 in the wake of the Illinois Supreme Court's new requirements for minimum continuing legal education. Devine is seeking a training budget of $150,000 annually for his staff of more than 900 attorneys.

The budget as it is now written reflects a recommendation by Stroger of $5,000 for training, but Mebane said she understands that was an error that will be amended.

Mebane said several commissioners asked questions about the office's salaries, overtime, and the requirements of the new videotaping law and training rules.

The office plans to send a letter to Finance Committee Chairman John P. Daley answering those questions.

In his written statement, Devine did not say from where the funds he is seeking should come, but did say he doesn't think additional revenue is required. Instead, he asked the board to look at its priorities and put public safety and health care first.

Mebane and Devine press secretary John Gorman said Devine did not make a specific recommendation as to how the board should come up with the funds he is seeking because he views that as a legislative function with which he should not interfere.



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