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20 Cook County prosecutors cut under approved budget

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

by John Flynn Rooney

The Cook County state's attorney's office began notifying 20 lawyers in the office today that they will be laid off due to budget cuts, a spokeswoman for the office said.

The action comes while negotiations continue between Cook County Board President Toni R. Preckwinkle's office and a union representing about 100 support staff employees in the state's attorney's office along with lawyers, investigators and support staff in the Cook County public defender's office.

At about 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, the Cook County Board unanimously approved the county's $3.05 billion fiscal 2011 budget following a meeting that began the previous day.

Cook County State's Attorney Anita M. Alvarez and Preckwinkle reached a compromise on budget cuts last month that Alvarez said would result in the layoff of about 25 assistant state's attorneys.

The state's attorney's office has about 1,600 employees, including about 848 lawyers.

A total of 20 assistant state's attorneys from various divisions in the office were forwarded layoffs notices, said Sally Daly, spokeswoman for Alvarez.

"We evaluated officewide trying to come up with efficiencies [and] moving people around where we need them the most," Daly said. "We were able to evaluate the workload and the number of lawyers we needed to complete the task."

The lawyers facing layoffs are from the criminal trial, civil and juvenile divisions, Daly said.

The layoffs will not be based on seniority because assistant state's attorneys are not union members, Daly said.

A total of 11 investigators with the state's attorney's office recently received layoff notices, Daly said.

Preckwinkle sought to close a $487 million budget gap and initially had sought about 1,300 layoffs of county employees. Under the recently approved budget, 750 county employees would be laid off, according to a news release from Preckwinkle's office.

Most union leaders representing county employees agreed to take 10 unpaid days off in 2011, rather than face layoffs, the release said.

The effective date of the layoffs was pushed back to March 11, the release said.

Chief Cook County Circuit Judge Timothy C. Evans said his office is working closely with Preckwinkle and County Board members to determine the overall impact of the 10 furlough days on the court system.

"We have made it clear to President Preckwinkle that exceptions will have to be made to accommodate members of the public who have to have access to court services throughout the year," Evans said.

Evans said he provided Preckwinkle with an example of an exception — the Bond Court at 26th Street and California Avenue, where people who are arrested on any given night have a right to a bond hearing. "She understands that," Evans said.

AFSCME Council 31 represents about 5,000 Cook County employees, including lawyers, investigators and support staff with the Cook County public defender's office, said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the union.

Negotiations between the union and Preckwinkle's office are ongoing leading up to March 11, Lindall said.

"We believe that there is sufficient flexibility within the parameters of that budget to reach an agreement to preserve services and prevent the devastating loss of jobs that has been threatened, while being fair to employees," Lindall said.

Lindall added that the union remains concerned about dozens of threatened layoffs for investigators and support staff with the public defender's office.

"While we're gratified to have protected the jobs of most [assistant public defenders] who have previously received layoff notices, it's short-sighted to think that merely retaining attorneys without preserving investigators and support staff won't harm the PD [public defender] function," Lindall said. "The work of the attorneys depends on investigators and support staff."

Layoff notices were sent recently to 95 investigators and support staff with the public defender's office, said Patrick G. Reardon, first assistant Cook County public defender. The public defender's office comprises about 719 employees, including 458 assistant public defenders.

The county board recently passed two budget amendments that would allow the office to keep all assistant public defenders in courtrooms during 2011, Reardon said.

Preckwinkle has proposed a combination of five furlough days and another five days termed, "shut down days," Lindall said.

"Any agreement we can reach, will be put to a vote of the full membership," Lindall said. "Our members themselves will decide to approve any agreement we can reach."

A total of 100 and administrative staff employees with the state's attorney's office are members of AFSCME, Daly said.

"It the union agrees to those furlough days, those layoffs could be avoided," Daly said.

A spokeswoman for Preckwinkle's office could not be reached for comment.

jrooney@lbpc.com



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