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Court delays hearing on lawyer's firing

Saturday, May 03, 2008
Daily Herald
by Joseph Ryan

Cook County's public defender won a reprieve Friday as a county judge intervened to hold off his politically charged ouster.

Cook County Judge Daniel Riley sided with Edwin Burnette Friday in his request to stay the Cook County Board's scheduled termination hearing, said the public defender's attorney, Paul Mollica.

The move pushes off Wednesday's hearing on allegations that Burnette should be fired because of insubordination under Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. County attorneys plan to appeal the ruling on Monday, Mollica said. County attorney Burt Odelson didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Burnette sued the county late last year over layoffs and budget cuts in his office, which oversees hundreds of public defenders. That move, among others, has riled Stroger.

"I think there has been a lack of leadership in the office," Stroger said in an interview Wednesday. "The most blatant thing has been the lawsuit against the county."

Burnette contends he is not subordinate to Stroger. His position is appointed by the board president for a six-year term and removal requires the finding of "good cause" or "dereliction of duty"

Burnette is accusing Stroger of wanting to take over the office to use it as a patronage dumping ground, a move he contends would politicize the defense of alleged criminals.

Stroger declined to address those allegations directly, but did say "he can say whatever he likes."

Riley didn't rule on the merits of the case Friday. Another hearing is scheduled for May 9. Burnette was appointed in 2003 by Todd Stroger's father, John, and his term expires in April of 2009.

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