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Cook County courthouses may be closed on weekends

Sunday, December 06, 2009
Daily Herald
by Joseph Ryan

Most suburban Cook County courthouses could be closed on the weekends and earlier in the night under a proposal being floated by Sheriff Tom Dart to help with staffing shortages. "It is about using the resources where they are needed most," said Dart spokesman Steve Patterson.

Locally, that would mean the Rolling Meadows courthouse would close daily at 6 p.m. instead of sometimes staying open later to handle court hearings and other events.

It would also mean suburban residents arrested on Friday or Saturday would likely be shipped to Chicago or south suburban Markham for their bond hearings instead of going to Rolling Meadows.

In turn, Patterson says the moves would free up about 50 sheriff's officers to work other shifts and other locations that are now severely short staffed. He said sometimes there might be only one sheriff's officer manning an entire floor of courtrooms these days because the agency has not be able to hire new staff in at least three years.

"It is not a matter of if something is going to happen in a courtroom," Patterson said, "but when."

The move is likely to draw fire from local suburban police, who would find themselves having to cart prisoners to the South Side of Chicago or the south suburbs instead of nearby Rolling Meadows on the weekends.

Yet, the idea seems a long way off from becoming actual policy.

More than likely, the move would take some form of agreement from no less than four other top county officials: Cook County Clerk Dorthy Brown, Chief Judge Timothy Evans, State's Attorney Anita Alvarez and Public Defender Abishi Cunningham.

Dart has made his pitch to county board members, who would have the power to move negotiations along and hammer out a deal.

Patterson said the suburban courthouses in Rolling Meadows, Skokie, Bridgeview and Maywood were targeted for reductions because they handle far fewer criminals on the weekends and cases during the week than the main courthouse in Chicago or the south suburban one in Markham.

On a typical Saturday, Rolling Meadows courthouse may have about a dozen alleged offenders awaiting bond hearing with a staff of officers, clerks and legal officials rivaling that figure.

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