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Juvenile center's chief hit by judge

Thursday, February 23, 2006
Chicago Tribune
by Michael Higgins

Tribune staff reporter Ofelia Casillas contributed to this report

Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center Supt. Jerry Robinson has "flunked his test," a federal judge said Wednesday, again chastising county officials for failing to address reports of violence against residents at the facility.

U.S. District Judge John Nordberg said that the county's claims of progress under Robinson are not consistent with the harsh reports issued by court-appointed monitors and other experts.

"How long has he been in office?" Nordberg demanded. Later, he said, "Essentially, not much of anything really has been accomplished."

But despite the sharp words for Robinson, who started in June 2005, Nordberg declined to schedule the evidentiary hearing lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois were seeking to determine whether an outside manager should be brought in to jump-start reforms. The ACLU contends that the county is not living up to a 2003 agreement to improve conditions at the center.

"I want to see what can be worked out between the parties," Nordberg said. He set a status hearing for March 2.

After the hearing, Robinson disputed the judge's assessment.

"I don't think I flunked anything," Robinson said. "I'm not really sure what he's basing his opinion on."

In urging Nordberg to set a date, ACLU lawyers said they needed to move quickly to protect children at the facility. They are pushing for a detailed implementation plan, which would spell out what needs to be done to bring the facility up to standards. The plan also would specify who does what and how progress would be measured.

But negotiations are at an apparent impasse, ACLU attorney Benjamin Wolf said.

"We need a deadline from you, or (County Board President) John Stroger will not settle this case," Wolf said.

Nordberg said at one point that if a full hearing were necessary, he might step down from the case because he would out of town much of March and April.

Patrick Driscoll, a supervisor in the Cook County state's attorney's office, urged the judge not to set a date. He said he hoped the two sides could agree on an implementation plan that could be fully developed in about two months.

"The goal is not disputed," Driscoll said. "We're all trying."

He also said Robinson deserved more time to make changes.

At the hearing, the two sides also sparred over how county officials handled complaints of abuse at the facility. Wolf said the complaints go to the county inspector general's office, which takes months to investigate and keeps the process confidential.



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