Preckwinkle does about-face, parking to remain free at Cook County Courthouses

Four years ago, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced a plan to turn the free parking at the various Cook County Courthouses into pay lots.

In the years since, construction has been done at the various suburban courthouse parking lots, to restrict ingress and egress and to install the beginnings of either actual or automated cashier stands at the entrances.  According to the Daily Herald, the cost of all this construction was $1.9 million.

As someone who usually drives in and out of these courthouses anywhere from 5 to 15 times a week, I was not happy about the prospect of paying around $3,000 a year to continue my law practice.  When I expressed these concerns, I was told that President Preckwinkle’s attitude was that I should just pass the cost along to my clients.

Well, that was not a good solution, because many people who come to court are indigent or barely scraping by.

In addition, it was expected that most court employees would have to pay for parking as well, even though most are not well compensated.  Yet an exception was going to be made for judges, who are the best compensated of anyone who works daily at a courthouse.

Beyond the cost, I was also concerned about the logistics of pay parking.  Making everyone pay on the way in or way out would cause tremendous traffic jams, especially as people get up to the cashier and realize that they don’t have the cash to pay the fee.  This was not comforting to me as an attorney who often is in a rush trying to get from one suburban courthouse to another.

Happily for everyone involved who actually uses the courts, the Daily Herald reports that President Preckwinkle has done an about-face and decided not to implement pay parking.  I wish I could say that this happened due to work from our bar associations, or that President Preckwinkle realized that she was attempting to balance her budget on the backs of the poor, but instead credit goes to the various unions representing court workers who fought against their members having to pay to go to work.

What is not said in the article, but every Cook County resident knows, is that these many of these court employees are political hires, i.e., the political army for President Preckwinkle and the other board members, the ones who are expected to go out and help with re-elections in order to keep their jobs. So I suspect that President Preckwinkle ultimately wasn’t willing to anger her own base and kill her political career for the (relatively) paltry amount that court parking would bring in.

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