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Public defender: Stroger gave me unqualified workers
1 supervisor was so bad, 'I had to find something for him to do'

Thursday, May 01, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEVE PATTERSON

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger has forced unqualified people into jobs on the public defender's payroll.

Those charges were made Wednesday by Public Defender Ed Burnette, who is fighting to keep a job he was appointed to five years ago by Stroger's father, John Stroger.

One supervisor hired by Stroger was so unqualified, Burnette said, "I had to find something for him to do" because he couldn't do public defender work. Attorney Richard Velazquez was hired to defend the poor but never saw a courtroom, instead becoming Stroger's attorney.

Burnette said while his office defends the poor, Stroger believes certain jobs there "belong to him and he can fill them as he sees fit." He adds that people were "sent to our office" for jobs based on their political connections, not legal background.

Burnette said John Stroger largely kept politics out of his office, but that has changed under Todd Stroger.

Todd Stroger defends his right to fill some positions based on political patronage. His spokesman Gene Mullins said Burnette "never once reached out to President Stroger and told him he had people not doing their job. That's part of his failure to effectively manage his office."

A hearing is set for next week on what Todd Stroger claims is "just cause" for firing Burnette. While a majority of the county board initially supported the move, that number is dwindling.

Stroger's office also recently launched an investigation into Burnette's hiring of one-time political candidate Jonathan Bedi -- who applied for a public defender job years ago, but only got a call while challenging state Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago) in the February primary.

Bedi's hiring was first questioned in a Chicago Sun-Times story in March, as was Stroger's hiring of high-paid administrator Ron Burleson, who once worked at Stroger's health club. Stroger's office has failed to answer a standing request for Burleson's resume.



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