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Deal keeps Cook Co. public defender on the job

Monday, May 19, 2008
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

A last-minute deal will avoid a public showdown today between Cook County Board President Todd Stroger and Public Defender Edwin Burnette.

Burnette will keep his job after the two reached some sort of agreement Monday that will avoid a public hearing today before the Cook County Board on Burnette's dismissal, said Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who said he had spoken to Burnette Monday.

Stroger spokesman Eugene Mullins confirmed that Monday evening, boasting in a news release that Stroger dropped his bid to fire Burnette after Burnette agreed to obey policy and legislative provisions set down by Stroger and the county board.

Stroger had moved to fire Burnette after Burnette filed suit against Stroger, challenging Stroger's cuts in the office and revealing some of Stroger's patronage practices.

Whether Burnette will drop his lawsuit remained unclear.

Although Mullins sought to portray it as a victory for Stroger, commissioners speculated Monday that public pressure on Stroger in part had led to the agreement.

Burnette was ready to air even more dirty laundry on hiring practices had the public hearing gone forward today, sources said.

In addition to avoiding that embarrassment, Stroger also faced a backlash from his own political base, the black community on the South Side of Chicago.

Burnette, a former Marine who graduated from Annapolis, was supported in his fight by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had personally lobbied Cook County commissioners to vote to retain Burnette, even if the vote was non-binding.

That backlash, combined with the possibility of an embarrassing public fight and the removal of Burnette from his job just a few months early, may have convinced Stroger that the political cost was not worth the ever-diminishing returns.

Commissioners contacted Monday before the deal was announced indicated there were nine votes in place to make the hearing a public one rather than a closed-door session. Burnette himself had asked for a public hearing rather than a private one.

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