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Cook County Board may fire public defender

Friday, April 04, 2008
Chicago Tribune

Cook County’s public defender could be dismissed by the County Board next week as a majority of commissioners are backing a resolution to fire him.

The attempt to dump Edwin Burnette comes after the public defender sued County Board President Todd Stroger and other officials last November, challenging budget cuts that he said threatened his ability to provide counsel to low-income criminal defendants.

Burnette also sought a court order that would force the county to reinstate about 30 staff members, including attorneys, who he says were wrongly dismissed in April and May. The layoffs were “arbitrary and capricious” and “previous attempts ... to resolve these matters with defendant Stroger without litigation have gone unanswered,” according to the lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court.

Burnette also asked a judge to block Stroger from cutting public defenders’ pay, forcing them to take “furlough days” or making other employment decisions without his approval.

Nine of the 17 county commissioners put their name on the resolution calling for Burnette’s ouster. Republicans Tony Peraica, Gregg Goslin, Peter Silvestri and Elizabeth Doody Gorman joined Democrats William Beavers, Joseph Mario Moreno, Joan Murphy, Deborah Sims and Robert Steele.

The combination of pro- and anti-Stroger commissioners indicates a high level of support for dumping Burnette, who accused Stroger of moving to fire him.

"All of those other things are a pretext for payback because of the lawsuit," Burnette said, referring to Stroger’s justifications for seeking his dismissal and the lawsuit he filed against Stroger late last year.

The Stroger administration could not be immediately reached for comment.

The County Board meets Wednesday. As board president, Stroger picks the public defender.

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