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Illinois Supreme Court wants new boss for troubled Circuit Court of Cook County Department

Saturday, March 22, 2014
Chicago Sun-Times
by Michael Sneed

 

In an unprecedented move, the Illinois Supreme Court is appointing an administrator for the Circuit Court of Cook County to overhaul the pre-trial services and adult probation department, citing a “gradual erosion of a management and leadership structure.”

The judicial shake-up is the result of an Illinois Supreme Court audit concentrating on the court probation department’s pretrial services, a unit that helps judges decide which defendants are kept in jail or released to the community while their cases are adjudicated.

“It’s historic,” said a top Sneed source familiar with the state court’s audit, which lists 40 recommendations to clean up the county courts’ probation mess.

“Never before in the history of the Cook County Circuit Court has a monitor been appointed to overhaul a segment of the court,” said the source..

Recent criticism of the Circuit Court focused on the stewardship of adult probation chief Jesus Reyes, who was forced to step down only recently by Chief Judge Timothy Evans— despite complaints about Reyes for the past few years.

The audit, which began in 2013, was based on reports of how the troubled probation and pre-trial services department was run under the leadership of Reyes, who was appointed acting probation chief in 2005 by Evans.

Although Evans dumped Reyes shortly before the critical audit surfaced, he has kept Reyes in the court system as an advisor of “research and policy.”

Evans told Sneed Friday: “I want to thank the Supreme Court for what they have done.”

But he declined to talk about Reyes.

In a press release dispatched Friday by Evans’ office, he “welcomes the participation of the Supreme Court as well as other Cook County stakeholders in completing the process of establishing a pre-eminent pretrial services department that he began years ago.”

“Despite the limited resources available, Judge Evans is dedicated to improving the pretrial services program,” stated the release. “Until adequate resources are committed to a pretrial services program, the program will always be imperfect.”

The Illinois Supreme Court action has no bearing on Evans’ role as chief judge, although it does diminish his power by essentially commandeering a major court department.

“Judge Evans, who is an elected official, will work with the court-appointed administrator, but he would not have the ability to refuse the recommendations,” said a source familiar with the audit.

As recently as this week, Evans, who is elected to a three-year term as chief judge by the judges of the circuit court, sent a memo to the entire staff trying to reassure his electorate.

The 64-page audit report states: “There has been a gradual erosion of a management and leadership structure dedicated to the Pretrial Services Program.”

It also concludes: “There is a general lack of understanding of the pretrial services function by stakeholders and Probation Department staff.”

The report listed six central issues upon which to focus:

Technology must be improved to share information between the Cook County Sheriff, Pretrial Services, the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office and Circuit Court Clerk.

The Pretrial Services department – which helps judges decide which defendants should be released and which held in jail while awaiting trial — is widely misunderstood and undervalued.

Leadership within the Pretrial Services Program is required to oversee both pretrial and probation and don’t have time to create a better system.

There is limited training for lawyers, judges and employees within the court system.

Bond and release conditions for inmates vary greatly between judges, and criteria for electronic monitoring are not clear

There is no comprehensive way — through all parts of the court system — to collect data on the outcome of bond court and pretrial decisions.

In a statement, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who was among the most vocal critics of the court system, said she was “grateful” for the audit.

“I’ve consistently expressed concerns about the management of this department and look forward to working with the court and the new monitor to address their recommendations. This is about more than just a lack of leadership, it is about the men and women who suffer when the system is allowed to fail,” Preckwinkle said.

 



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