Cook County has launched a hearing officer
system that could remove thousands of county ordinance violations from
the court system, including many marijuana and prostitution cases.
new system is also intended to hear violations of certain county taxes,
violations of building and zoning laws, environmental control and
public health cases, some automobile violations and parking tickets.
"It will increase the efficiency of collections and it can bring in
millions more'' in revenue to the county, said Jack R. Weinrauch,
director of the county's new Department of Administrative Hearings.
Currently, Weinrauch said, "It would be fair to say that compared to
more serious cases the court hears,'' ordinance violations "are
considered a nuisance. I've heard that from judges.''
judges' calendars are so crowded that judges have been dismissing a
number of county ordinance violations, "particularly the building and
zoning and a lot of the sheriff's cases."
The new hearing officer
system is patterned after the City of Chicago's system for matters like
parking tickets, according to Weinrauch.
Chicago's system "is considered one of the more successful programs in the country,'' he added.
The county's version was created by ordinance that became effective Jan. 1.
The hearing officer system started operating June 15, only for
cigarette tax violations from the Department of Revenue. Just 122 cases
have been heard so far.
"On certain cases, the State's Attorney's
Office will be presenting the case on behalf of the administrative
agency. We don't know how many lawyers will be needed yet,'' said Patrick T. Driscoll Jr., chief of the state's attorney's Civil Actions Bureau.
County officials expect to expand the system rapidly to other types of violations.
The hearings will also be expanded before the year is out, Weinrauch
said, to offices in the five suburban courthouses to conduct matters
closer to where people live. Eventually, evening and Saturday hearings
and telephone hearings may be available.
plan, he said, is to begin hearing building and zoning violations on
Sept. 28; environmental control cases (such as asbestos and air
pollution) in October; public health cases, such as restaurant
violations, in December.
Violations of the new civil ordinances
against prostitution and possession of small amounts of marijuana may
be heard starting in October; the rest of the Sheriff's cases in
The Department of Revenue cases will be expanded to
include alleged violations of liquor taxes, sales taxes, use taxes on
automobile sales, amusement taxes and parking lot taxes.
Sheriff's Department is planning how to enforce the new county
ordinances regarding prostitution and possession of 10 grams or less of
marijuana, Weinrauch said.
If a person is given a ticket for
possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana, the mandatory fine is not
less than $200, according to the new Ordinance 09-O-51 sponsored by
Commissioner Earlean Collins. No criminal record will result for a
violation of this sort.
The county's first two hearing officers, who both work part time, are Thomas Joseph Grippando, a legal assistance lawyer, and Denis E. Guest, who is also a hearing officer for Chicago and the Illinois tollway system.
sit now in room 1140 of the County Building. Three hearing rooms are
available there, Weinrauch said, with space for three more, and
additional space for settlement conferences.
Cases will be heard
"as if they are in court,'' Weinrauch said, with rules of evidence,
objections, a digital recording of all proceedings, and opening and
However, the rules of evidence will be
relaxed compared to court, and the burden of proof will be
preponderance of the evidence rather than such higher standards as
clear and convincing evidence that applies in some civil cases, or the
beyond a reasonable doubt standard employed in criminal proceedings.
prostitution ordinance, for instance gives a sheriff's officer the
option to deal with some prostitution cases as "public morals nuisance
violations,'' (Ordinance 09-O-09). It says as follows:
formal … rules of evidence shall not apply…. Evidence, including
hearsay, may be admitted only if it is of a type commonly relied upon
by reasonably prudent persons in the conduct of their affairs.''
also says the proof shall be "a preponderance of the evidence,
provided, however, that a violation notice, or a copy thereof, shall be
prima facie evidence of the correctness of the facts specified
Patrons of prostitutes and prostitutes who are cited
by sheriff's police for violating the new county ordinance and found in
violation by a hearing officer can be fined from $500 to $1,000 and
possibly be required to perform community service.
"It eliminates the criminal record,'' Weinrauch said.
state law, prostitution or patronizing a prostitute on first offense is
a misdemeanor that can lead to up to a year in jail, he said.
county currently produces 14,000 vehicle tickets a year, including
parking violations and faulty auto equipment violations, that could fit
into the hearing officer system, Weinrauch said.
The money involved in the county tax cases that could be heard by hearing officers is substantial, according to Weinrauch.
Some car dealers are alleged to owe over $1 million.
"Quite a few'' such cases involve tax liabilities ranging from $40,000 to several hundred thousand dollars, he continued.
will not be required for most cases, Weinrauch said. Agents of the
various department involved may present the evidence for their
departments "to make a prima facie case and shift the burden of proof
to the defendant,'' he said.
"The arresting officer or person issuing the citation does not have to appear,'' he added.
major benefit of the new system will be to reduce the amount of time
sheriff's officers spend in court and thus expand the amount of time
they are on the street, Weinrauch said.
The same benefit is expected to be gained by other county departments that use the new hearing officer system.
county produces about 3,000 building and zoning cases that would fit
the system, about 2,000 Department of Revenue cases, about 500
environmental control cases, about 800 minor marijuana cases and about
400 prostitution arrests that could, in the future, be treated as civil
The number of lawyers who appear to contest these
cases is starting to increase, according to Weinrauch, but so far most
defendants appear pro se.
The principal sponsor of the ordinance setting up the system was County Board President Todd H. Stroger. Commissioner Lawrence J. Suffredin Jr. assisted.
who is an attorney and former chief counsel to the Pennsylvania state
senate, said he drafted much of the state legislation that had to be
passed to enable the new email@example.com