Cook County Public Defender’s stunning Tribune interview slams Alvarez, Rahm and Secretary of State

The new Cook County Public Defender, Amy Campanelli, gave a stunning and remarkable interview to Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Schmadeke, which, since it is important, impacts public policy and effects people’s lives, is of course behind the Tribune’s paywall so people can’t read it.  As a public service, I am going to liberate a few choice sections below.

In my interpretation of Ms. Campanelli’s comments, she believes that too often Illinois laws are determined by scared politicians who are trying to curry favor with the most vocal and emotional segments of the electorate, and the results are laws or policy positions that are not effective, not in the best interests of our communities, and are often immoral.  In other words, she sounds a lot like me.

Which is not to say that I agree with her on each and every point, but it is nice to have someone with some authority speak these things so openly.  Enjoy this while it lasts, because usually when someone speaks this openly about these subjects, the system smacks them down so hard and fast that it can be breathtaking to behold.

Here are the excerpts:

Campanelli ripped how the secretary of state’s office handles first-time drunken-driving offenders and how she said Chicago police make arrests on nearly every domestic call.

“That’s bad policy!” she said. “Bad policy!”

Campanelli also took issue with Emanuel over his recent comments that Chicago police officers have gone “fetal” amid increased scrutiny of their work. She said her office has seen no sign that police have slowed down their efforts or arrests.

“The only way things will change is if we hold police accountable,” she said. “You’re damn right they’re going to be watched, and they should be watched every single minute to stop what has been decades and decades of abuse in the Chicago Police Department. And obviously very failed leadership.”

Campanelli recalled several encounters she, as an assistant public defender rising through the ranks, had with Detective Michael Kill, an underling of the disgraced police Cmdr. Jon Burge who she said put a rubber band on his belt for every person he sent to prison.

“He walked around with his belt full of rubber bands,” she said of Kill, the recent subject of a front-page Tribune article. “He was proud of putting people in prison. Proud. That’s a detective who never should’ve made it out on the streets. That’s a guy who tortured people.

“Just think if he’d had to wear a body camera. Just think if someone was videotaping him,” she said. “And the mayor says they’re afraid — of what, being transparent? Being accountable? When a police officer’s out on the street, every minute of what he’s doing should be viewed.”

She reserved some of her harshest remarks for the secretary of state’s office, citing a case handled by her husband in which a union electrician, unable to get his license back despite a single DUI conviction 18 years ago, was pulled over and charged for driving on a suspended license. He was sentenced to three years in prison, she said.

“What are we doing here? Because of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving you want to put people away for a suspended license?” she said. “I say put them in a class and help them get their licenses back. Why do they have to go to prison? That’s absurd. I can’t tell you how many clients are going to prison on suspended licenses. And again, what kind of client is it?

“The secretary of state — forget them, forget them. They’re not helping anyone. … I don’t know what they’re doing over there, but they’re not helping our clients get their licenses back. Those hearing officers — it’s a joke. Nobody’s getting their licenses back. Nobody’s waiving fees for the indigent. Nobody’s thinking outside the box to solve these problems.”

Campanelli, though, praised how some long-sought criminal justice reforms — ending mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders, for one — are finally winning bipartisan political support.

“It’s amazing!” she said. “I step back and I think about the last 30 years I’ve been doing this and I think — I’m shocked that people are talking about this. I mean we’ve been doing this every day in court, saying our client has a drug problem, please give him drug treatment. And the judge says, no, he’s going to the penitentiary. Years and years and years of this.”

“Fabulous!” she exclaimed as she read a press release on a reporter’s phone about Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, at a news conference Wednesday with police chiefs from around the country, calling for major changes in how the criminal justice system handles low-level offenders. “This is spot-on!”

If you have a Chicago Tribune subscription, click here to read the entire story:

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