Close the Bridgeview Courthouse? It makes no sense

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According to media reports, Cook County is consider closing the Bridgeview courthouse as a cost-cutting move.  Even though it is unclear whether the move would actually save money.

Situated in the southwest suburbs, Bridgeview is one of five suburban Cook County Courthouses.  There are five criminal courtrooms that handle both suburban and Chicago felony cases, plus a felony bond room and another room that handles specialty  calls like juvenile, drug and veterans’ court.  There are also five misdemeanor courtrooms, four minor traffic courtrooms.  In addition, there is a courtroom that handles domestic relations and child custody, another that handles domestic violence, and three courtrooms that handle civil cases, such as personal injury and evictions.

Cases from the following municipalities have cases at the Bridgeview Courthouse:  Alsip, Bedford Park, Bridgeview, Burbank, Burr Ridge, Chicago Ridge, Countryside, Crestwood, Evergreen Park, Forest View, Hickory Hills, Hinsdale, Hodgkins, Hometown, Indian Head Park, Justice, LaGrange, Lemont, Lyons, Merrionette Park, Metra, McCook, Morton College, Oak Lawn, Orland Hills, Orland Park, Palos Heights, Palos Hills, Palos Park, Stickney, Summit, Tinley Park, Western Springs, West Haven, Willow Springs, Worth.  In addition, traffic and criminal cases brought by the Cook County Sheriff, Cook County Forest Preserve, Secretary of State, Illinois Commerce Commission, and Illinois State Police Districts – 3 and 15 are heard there too.

The Courthouse is a fairly large and spacious building.  It is near I-294 and major streets like 95th Street and Harlem Avenue, so it is not too hard to get to.  There is a large parking lot adjacent to the courthouse, although this lot can get filled up on busy court days.  As far as I know, the building is in good shape.

I can’t think of a particularly good reason to close this courthouse.  My totally unofficial guess is that it ranks somewhere in the middle of the the five suburban courthouses in terms of how busy it gets.  Markham is well-known for being the busiest of the courthouses, and my unofficial guess is that Rolling Meadows and Skokie are the slowest.

If Bridgeview is closed, where would the cases go?  It would make sense for some of these towns to send their cases to Markham (in fact, some of them used to go to Markham until they were moved to Bridgeview to ease overcrowding a few years back).  The rest would presumably go to Maywood, which is a much smaller courthouse and has an even worse parking situation.  In addition, the Maywood courthouse is in deteriorating shape and would be a good candidate to be torn down and rebuilt, if the money were there.

For those reasons, if I had to pick a courthouse to close, it would be Maywood.  Some of the Maywood cases could be sent to Bridgeview, some to Rolling Meadows, and maybe even a few to Skokie.  But Maywood has some extremely busy court calls, like Cicero, the State Police, Berwyn and Riverside.  I don’t see how the Bridgeview or Rolling Meadows parking lots could handle the additional traffic, let alone adjudicate all the cases.

A better idea might be to consolidate some of the Chicago area branch courts, but there wouldn’t be as big of a savings compared to closing one of the big suburban buildings.  There are branch courts at 111th Street, 51st Street, Harrison and Kedzie (Flournoy), Grand and Central and Belmont and Western.  Some of these could be consolidated or moved to the main criminal courthouse at 26th Street, the Domestic Violence courthouse at 555 W. Harrison, or the Daley Center.

Another possibility that has been floated to reduce expenses is to cut back court to three or four days of the week.  The obvious math means that court calls would be increased by 20 to 40%.  But you can’t do 20 to 40% more trials with the same staff and courtrooms that you had before.  And some of these court calls are overcrowded already.  Some of the worst court calls that I have ever seen are the State Police, Cicero and Riverside calls at the Maywood courthouse.  People are standing in the hallway because there is no room inside the courtroom, even to stand in an aisle.  There might be 8 or 12 cases set for trial, but it takes hours before all the cases on the court call have been called once and  even one trial has been completed.

All of these proposals will result in jammed up court calls, lengthy continuances, and more aggravation for all parties concerned.  None of them are palatable.  They are the opposite of the orderly administration of justice.

My preference?  Find other places to cut the budget.  Closing a suburban courthouse will be a major setback for residents and is the epitome of “penny wise, pound foolish.”

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