SPRINGFIELD — State budget cuts could deliver a
hit to the already bruised appeals division of the Cook County state's
The prosecutor's office, which is the only one
in the state that handles its own appellate work, is seeking $3.4
million in state money for its Criminal Appeals Division under the
State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor's Fiscal Year 2011 budget.
state appellate prosecutor's office handles the criminal appeals for
the other 101 counties and provides the Cook County office with a grant
to supplement county funding for the appeals division that handles
nearly half of all the state's appeals.
Though the prosecutor's
office has continued to stump the legislature for a $3 million-plus
appropriation over the years, the state's recent financial situation has
forced the appeals unit to manage a heavy caseload with about two dozen
Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Alan
J. Spellberg, the deputy supervisor of the Criminal Appeals
Division, said his office received $1.7 million in state money last year
under a grant from the appellate prosecutor's office. He said the
appeals division had been getting about $2.7 million in funding until
about 2008, when it dropped to $2.5 million.
The reduced grant
and county budget cuts have left the appeals division with a backlog of
briefs and not enough attorneys to play catch up.
the appeals division should operate with 105 attorneys, but that cuts
have brought that number down to 76, which means there are 29 fewer
assistant state's attorneys to manage the nearly 140 briefs the office
gets during an average month.
According to a memo that the Cook
County state's attorney's office gave to lawmakers last week in
Springfield, the grant from the state's attorneys appellate prosecutor's
office used to provide for 37 attorneys, but currently only covers 15.
only can do so much work with the number of people we have," Spellberg
said, explaining that his division prepares briefs in response to those
filed by the Office of the State Appellate Defender, the Law Office of
the Cook County Public Defender, and private and pro-bono attorneys.
comparison to the Criminal Appeals Division's 76 attorneys (57
full-time and 19 part-time), Spellberg pointed to the Office of the
State Appellate Defender's 1st District office, which has more than 80
full-time and a dozen part-time lawyers to handle about 75 percent of
his office's cases.
Spellberg's office filed more than 1,300
briefs in 2009, during which time the Criminal Appeals Division
participated in more than 130 oral arguments to the Appellate Court and
25 to the state Supreme Court.
With a minimum of 30 new briefs
each week, the memo from the prosecutor's office said "the assistants
working in this unit are double if not tripled on their assignments."
office's high caseload has produced a backlog of 198 briefs. That
figure also includes about 80 briefs that are now past their deadline.
There's an additional 234 briefs that have been assigned to attorneys in
the appeals division, but not yet written.
Despite the amount of
the appellate prosecutor's grant, Cook County's appeals division remains
responsible for handling all of the criminal appeals in the county,
which also means it is required to meet deadlines as to not violate a
defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial.
"In order to
do our jobs and to do them well and to ensure the defendants'
constitutional rights to appeal, we need to have adequate funding,"
Lawmakers have not yet voted on Gov. Patrick
J. Quinn's proposed FY2011 budget, which calls for cuts, borrowing
and a tax increase to bring the state out of a nearly $13 billion hole. firstname.lastname@example.org