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Stroger drops efforts to fire Cook County's public defender
Cook president drops effort to fire Burnette

Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger on Monday dropped his unprecedented effort to fire the public defender, resolving the matter one day before the County Board would have held a contentious hearing on the issue.

"The president met with Cook County Public Defender Edwin Burnette, and they discussed issues surrounding his employment with the county," said Eugene Mullins, Stroger's spokesman.

"Mr. Burnett has agreed to comply with policy and legislative mandates set forth by the president's office and the Cook County Board of Commissioners. As a result, President Stroger has agreed to drop current efforts to have Mr. Burnette terminated."

Burnette, whose six-year term ends next April, confirmed that Stroger was dropping the effort to fire him but declined further comment. He said Stroger and he would release a joint statement Tuesday.

The agreement came as commissioners were gearing up for a battle at Tuesday's County Board meeting.

The initial salvo would have been about whether the hearing, required by state law before Stroger could fire Burnette, would be open to the public.

Burnette, meanwhile, in recent weeks had accused Stroger of improperly interfering with his office, which defends indigent criminal defendants. Burnette alleges that the president thwarted his statutory independence by mandating assistants take unpaid furlough days, thereby reducing their salaries and eliminating Burnette's discretion on how to meet budget limits.

His attorneys had prepared a list of witnesses for the hearing that included State's Atty. Dick Devine, an attorney Stroger hired as an assistant public defendant but works as counsel to the president and Stroger himself.

A majority of commissioners in early April introduced a resolution calling for the hearing, a necessary step to fire the public defender. The effort came at the request of Stroger, according to one commissioner.

The resolution accused Burnette of "dereliction of duty" and cited six allegations of his failure to perform "assigned duties." The last one noted Burnette sued Stroger last November, alleging the president thwarted his statutory independence by making personnel decisions for the office.

Burnette said Stroger sought "payback" for the lawsuit and called the other allegations a "pretext."

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