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Main bond court security staffing altered by sheriff

Thursday, May 19, 2011
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by John Flynn Rooney

Security was stepped up recently at Central Bond Court at the Criminal Courts Building, the Cook County sheriff's office said.

Visitors to the bond court at 26th Street and California Avenue should not notice anything new because the changes relate to staffing restructuring and the flow of detainees, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart said in a press release.

The changes in operations and enhanced security were made after considering staffing shortages due to budget constraints, a news release says.

"They have ramped up security and that's a good thing," said Cook County Associate Judge Daniel T. Gillespie, the supervising judge of the Central Bond Court and branch courts. "They've tightened procedures to make it less likely that someone might escape or that there might be an untoward incident."

An average of at least 100 defendants appear each day for bond hearings at the Criminal Courts Building, the sheriff's office said.

During the last five years, no new sheriff's deputies were budgeted to be hired, the release said. So, Dart tapped his Office of Policy and Accountability to conduct a full review of courthouse operations, call times and the deployment of employees.

That office's findings were passed along earlier this year to senior staffers from the sheriff's Court Services Department, who worked with other offices involved in court operations to improve coordination of staffing shifts and processing times for defendants, the release says.

"Utilizing existing available deputies, those court services staff then instituted new measures aimed at better securing busy courtrooms, while also ensuring protection to the public, staff and building," the release says.

One of the changes involves limiting the hours lawyers can visit clients unescorted by sheriff's deputies in the main bond court lockup, said Robert Emmett Lee, an assistant Cook County public defender and chief of the office's Felony Trial Division. The defendants are brought to the lockup overnight, he said.

Before the changes, assistant public defenders had unrestricted access to their clients throughout the day, Lee said.

The recent changes allow the lawyers to interview their clients unescorted in bond court lockup between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Lee said.

If the lawyers want to interview their clients after 1:30 p.m., they must be escorted by a sheriff's deputy to the lockup, Lee said.

Sheriff's officials "did not feel it was safe or secure" for the lawyers to go into the lockup unescorted in the afternoons, Lee said.

The recent changes do not result in any impact upon taxpayers and mark the initial step in an ongoing review of all operations at Cook County courthouses in Chicago, Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Maywood, Bridgeview and Markham, the release says.

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