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Bond court gets underway in Cook County with different judges, new guidelines

Monday, September 18, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Megan Crepeau

A new slate of judges using a new set of guidelines began to preside over Cook County bond hearings Monday as dozens of activists rallied at the criminal courthouse to let authorities know they expect real reform.

The changes are designed to set affordable bail amounts for defendants awaiting trial who do not pose a danger to the public.

Michael Clancy, one of the new judges brought in to oversee bond hearings at the county’s main criminal courthouse at 26th Street and California Avenue, ordered most defendants released on electronic monitoring or their own recognizance while hearing about 30 new cases Monday.

In a handful of instances, though, Clancy ordered defendants held on a money bond higher than they said they could pay. But he set their next court date within a week to comply with a new rule requiring another bond review be held within seven days under such circumstances.

After a proposed class-action suit last year challenged the constitutionality of the bond system, Chief Judge Timothy Evans signed an order in July generally prohibiting judges from setting bonds higher than defendants can afford to pay.

Evans’ office followed up late last week with a major shake-up of bond court, reassigning all six judges who presided over hearings at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. Their replacements all went through training on a tool used to assess a defendant’s risk of committing further crime or skipping court dates.

Illinois law already required judges to consider a defendant’s financial situation before setting bond and held that bail amounts cannot be “oppressive.” But critics say judges often ignored that rule, and the new order, like an existing state law, will only be effective as long as judges comply with it.

“The people are here today to make sure that you stick to that ... order,” the Rev. Dwayne Grant, pastor at Xperience Church in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, told reporters outside the courthouse as a crowd of supporters cheered. “Y’all judges better hear our voice today.”

The cash bond system has come under fire from critics who say it unfairly punishes poor people charged with minor infractions who linger in jail because they don’t have the cash to pay often meager bonds.

As of Monday, about 300 of the nearly 7,500 detainees in Cook County Jail were unable to post bonds of as little as $1,000 or less, according to Cara Smith, policy chief for Sheriff Tom Dart, whose office runs the jail.

Numerous county officials have voiced support for revamping the bond system. State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who was elected last year on promises of reform, announced in March that her office would no longer oppose releasing some jail detainees because they could not afford small amounts of bail.

Twitter @crepeau

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