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Mike Sheahan's petulance

Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Chicago Tribune

Michael Sheahan is the sheriff of Cook County. He's not king. Somebody ought to tell him that.

Sheahan has decreed that the law students who are serving internships with two prestigious Chicago law firms cannot take tours of Cook County Jail. Why? He doesn't like that the firms have filed lawsuits against the sheriff's office in the past.

The tours, a tradition at some firms, serve as an educational excursion for aspiring attorneys. Summer associates get to see an important piece of the criminal justice system. The tours help to motivate young attorneys in private firms to take on pro bono work on behalf of indigent clients.

That's exactly what Sheahan doesn't like.

As if the jail were some kind of private family business, or his personal fiefdom, Sheahan has decided these particular firms may no longer enter his gates unless they sign waivers promising they will never again bring a lawsuit against the sheriff's office.

These aren't some storefront-shingle law offices getting the bully treatment from the sheriff. We're talking about Winston & Strawn and Jenner & Block. And they hardly decided to make the sheriff a target. Winston & Strawn represented one jail inmate, Stanley Jones, in a lawsuit alleging that he was beaten by gang members while in custody awaiting trial. A federal judge appointed a representative of the firm to represent Jones. The case eventually was settled out of court for $250,000.

Sheahan does have a problem with costly court settlements stemming from jail brutality complaints. He has nagging administrative issues to contend with, ranging from bumbling employees to strong-arming consiglieres who get overzealous.

But he's not going to make those troubles go away by acting in imperious fashion against two of the city's most prominent law firms. He's just going to look like a petulant, imperious bully.

Sheriff, the jail belongs to taxpayers. And so does your job.

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