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Stroger, Burnette find common ground during talk

Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

Cook County Public Defender Edwin "Burnett [sic] has agreed to comply with policy and legislative mandates set forth by the [Cook County Board] president's office."

--Monday press release by Gene Mullins, spokesman for Cook County Board President Todd Stroger

"Maybe it should have been worded a little differently. … From what Mr. Burnette has told me, he would like the lawsuit (against me) to continue."

--Tuesday statement by Cook County Board President Todd Stroger

With that, Cook County Board President Todd Stroger buried the hatchet Tuesday with Cook County Public Defender Edwin Burnette.

Burnette drew Stroger's ire last year after suing Stroger, alleging the county board president's cuts to the legislatively mandated office were unconstitutional and a victim of Stroger's patronage hiring practices.

One example cited by Burnette was the hiring by Stroger of a lawyer for Stroger's personal staff whose salary was put on Burnette's already meager budget.

In response to Burnette's lawsuit, Stroger scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to fire Burnette, but backed off abruptly Monday afternoon after newspapers and community leaders objected. The Rev. Jesse Jackson personally lobbied board members in Burnette's defense.

In addition, Burnette appeared prepared to air more Cook County dirty laundry if his hearing were kept open to the public, which seemed likely.

After the two talked, Stroger's staffers announced Stroger and Burnette would have a joint press release later in the day. Instead, a unilaterally written press release from Mullins declared Burnette's willingness to comply with policies and mandates set by the County Board president.

Stroger backed off that statement Tuesday.

"It should have been run by me, and I'll talk to Mr. Mullins," said Stroger. "If he let it go without me seeing it -- and he did -- then you're right. There's a problem with that."

Stroger said that Burnette's lawsuit continues, in part because Burnette wants the courts to rule on the status of the office as independent from political considerations.

"We actually sat down with each other and talked about what was going on and, what do you know? We see eye to eye on a lot of things," Stroger said.

Burnette was similarly gracious, saying things got so bad, in part, because of a lack of communication between the two parties.

"I have to take some responsibility that we didn't have this talk earlier on," said Burnette.

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