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More Than 200 County Public Defenders Could Be Cut
Stroger's Budget Cuts Could Cause Major Loss In Lawyers

Thursday, December 21, 2006
Special to
by Jay Levine

(CBS) CHICAGO Friday is the deadline for Cook County department heads to meet Board President Todd Stroger's demand for a 17 percent across-the-board budget cut.

CBS 2's Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports that in at least one important department the cuts will mean hundreds of people laid off.

Edwin Burnette, Cook County Public Defender, said he believes between 200 and 210 lawyers will have to laid off in order for the department to meet the county board's requirements.

"Representation of poor people is gonna be in chaos," Burnette said.

Some people feel the cuts demanded by Stroger to bridge an estimated half billion dollar budget gap are tougher to swallow because of his father's lack of action.

"What John Stroger did when he let these elected officials get away with waste and bloat all these years is spoil them and now they truly don't know how to react," said county commissioner Mike Quigley.

Quigley accuses some of crying wolf, but attorneys working in the trenches, defending thousands of indigent defendants each year, are furious.

"We re cutting out decent, proper and accurate legal representation for the poor people of this county, the very people these people -- I'm speaking of the majority of the county board -- want to protect," said Assistant Public Defender Marijane Placek.

Right now, the County Public Defender has a $52 million yearly budget, and 550 attorneys. The plan Burnette will present tomorrow calls for about $9 million in cuts and cut his legal staff in half.

"Hopefully they'll get a chance to look at the impact of this and make decisions that will help diminish the budget deficit but not leave services that are required at risk," Burnette said.

The irony is that since legal representation for the indigent is required by law, someone will have to represent the poor. Burnette estimates that hiring outside lawyers for them will cost two to three times as much as his cuts would save.

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