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Public defender’s office faces 68 attorney layoffs

Monday, July 24, 2017
Chicago Daily law Bulletin
by David Thomas

Approximately 68 attorneys in the Cook County Public Defender’s Office will be laid off in August after the proposed soda tax was put on hold in court.

That amounts to a 15 to 20 percent drop in the number of attorneys who represent defendants who are too poor to afford private counsel.

First Assistant Public Defender Keith N. Ahmad said the office faced a the same 10 percent cut required of all county offices, but there was little else to cut from the already lean operation that wasn’t personnel.

This will lead to larger caseloads for defenders who are already working on too much, according to Ahmad and Kevin J. Ochalla, an assistant public defender and the president of the union that represents them.

“The math is going to have consequences long-term. Cases are going to take longer to dispose of. Defendants will stay in jail longer,” Ahmad said. “The taxpayer will still pay, they’ll just pay in a different way.”

Ochalla said the union is doing what it can to fight the layoffs from going into effect.

This includes putting pressure on county commissioners, who approve the county budget, and rallying bar associations and “people that understand what kind of impact this cut will have on the court system,” he said.

“We have made it clear in our presentations and our outreach that the attorneys that remain … their caseloads are going to skyrocket,” Ochalla said. “That’s going to become worse the less people we have in our office who can do this job.”

Electronic notices of the pending layoffs were sent out July 14. They take effect Aug. 13.

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