Close the Bridgeview Courthouse? It makes no sense


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.”

Don’t get chewed out by the judge: Follow these simple rules

Don’t wear this to court!

Today I saw a police officer get “chewed” out for chewing gum in court today.  Which goes to show, that its not just criminal defendants who might need a refresher on how to dress and act for court.

A few basics:

  • Be on time.  If you are late for a criminal case, the judge might issue a warrant for your arrest.  In a civil case, being late could mean dismissal of your case or a default judgment.  In any event, failure to appear on time may mean a continuance and an irritated judge.
  • Be dressed neatly and appropriately (I would say that “business casual” is at least the minimum level of dress you should aim for).  Do not wear tank tops or bikinis to court.  Don’t have tee shirts with offensive statements on them, like “the judge is an idiot” (I actually saw that in a Chicago courtroom about a month ago).  If you have a DUI or drug case, don’t come to court with a shirt that tells the judge that you are a partier who likes booze and weed.  If you have a battery case, don’t wear a shirt that “jokes” about you being violent.
  • Don’t chew gum in the courtroom.
  • Also, don’t talk while court is in session.
  • Before entering the courtroom, take your cellphone and set it to silent or vibrate.  Or just turn it off.  Then put it away and don’t look at it in the courtroom.  If you do, the sheriff might take it away.  If you need to use the phone, go out to the hallway.  But remember, anything you say while talking on the phone might be overheard by a passing judge, juror, sheriff, police officer, prosecutor or opposing attorney.
  • Also, remember that before entering any courthouse, you will have to pass through security.  Every courthouse has its own rules.  Some do not allow any cell phones with cameras (Cameras are a no-no everywhere).  Some do not allow laptops.  None of them allow weapons or narcotics.  If you are thinking of bringing something which might cause a hassle in the security line, check the sheriff’s office the day before.  You don’t want to be delayed getting to your courtroom because the deputies won’t let you enter the building.  Update:  here is a guy who was arrested today bringing cocaine into the Kane County courthouse — for his delivery of cocaine case!
  • Don’t drink the day before coming to court.  Recently, I had a client come to court for a DUI trial that had been marked final (“no continuances”).  The client had a strong odor of alcohol that was immediately apparent to me.  The client said “I only drank last night.”  This was not good.  Luckily, the state’s witnesses did not appear and the case was dismissed.  Had it proceeded, and the judge or deputy had more time to catch a whiff of the odor, this client might have been held in contempt of court.
  • If your license is not valid, don’t drive to court.  You might end up arrested.  The sheriffs will sometimes pull the plate numbers of anyone who is coming to court that day with a suspended license, and keep a lookout for them.  Other times, they will follow suspended drivers out of the building to see if they drove to court.  (By the way, if your license is suspended, don’t drive, period.  Sooner or later you will be stopped and you will end up in jail).
  • Get a good night’s sleep.  You don’t want to be falling asleep or yawning in the courtroom.  You don’t want to be like this guy who was jailed for yawning in a Joliet courtroom.

I’m sure I could keep on going, but I am sure that you get the picture.