Courts to be closed due to sub-zero weather

Cook County has announced that courts will be closed Wednesday, January 30, 2019 and Thursday, January 31, 2019 due to expected sub-zero degree temperatures.  The only exception will be bond court at 26th Street and 555 W. Harrison.

This link will take you to Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ order, which includes information concerning rescheduled court dates.

Other courts have officially announced that they will be closed Wednesday, including the Federal Court in Chicago and state courts in DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will Counties.  You can find information about court closures here:  http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/

 

Cook County to start texting court date reminders to defendants

In an excellent decision to take advantage of modern technology, starting in December, Cook County will phone or text criminal defendants to remind them of their upcoming court dates.

This is good for a couple of reasons.  First of all, the vast majority of missed court dates are because the defendant forgot their court date.  I used to have a lot of clients miss court dates until I began a practice of texting, emailing or calling clients the day prior to court as a reminder.

The other reason is because it is not unusual for court dates to get confused for one reason or another.  For example, recently I had one case where the judge wrote 8/3/17 as the new court date on the court file instead of the actual continuance date which was supposed to have been 8/30/17.  This would have resulted in a warrant for my client but for the client being told about his “upcoming” court date by pre-trial services.

Ultimately, this program should reduce costs, because there will be less court dates, less warrants, less need to go out and arrest fugitives, and less housing costs while the arrestees sit in Cook County Jail.

You can read more about this in a DNAinfo story, linked here.

Markham Judge in hot water after allowing an attorney (and Judge to be) to handle her court call

I was absolutely stunned to see this story posted on the online edition of the Chicago Tribune today:

 A veteran Cook County Circuit Court judge allegedly allowed a lawyer who is running for election to the bench to wear her robe and hear some of her cases at the Markham courthouse late last week, a breach of judicial ethics as well as a potential violation of the law.

The move prompted the county’s chief judge, Timothy Evans, to remove the judge from the bench Wednesday until further notice.

The incident occurred in the courtroom of Judge Valarie Turner, who allegedly allowed lawyer Rhonda Crawford to take her place on the bench during her morning call of cases, Evans said in a statement. It is not clear if people appearing for cases knew of the situation in the courtroom.

Turner, a graduate of Northwestern University and the University of Chicago law school, is a former federal prosecutor who also worked as an associate with the Kirkland & Ellis law firm. First elected to the bench in 2002, she hears municipal cases in Markham.

Crawford, records show, works for the office of Chief Judge Timothy Evans. In March, she handily defeated two opponents in the Democratic primary for the 1st Judicial Subcircuit, which includes parts of the South Side of Chicago and some of the south suburbs.

She is unopposed in the November general election.

Pat Milhizer, a court spokesman, declined to say if Evans referred the matter to criminal authorities for investigation or to the disciplinary agencies that handle misconduct allegations made against lawyers and judges. He also would not say the types of cases Crawford improperly presided over or what now happens to those cases.

The incident shocked judicial ethics experts, who said it would be such an ethical lapse — and possibly a violation of the law for the impersonation of a judge — they were surprised any judge would allow it, and any lawyer would actually take the bench. It also raised a host of issues, from questions about the validity of any judgment Crawford might have rendered to the cost and inconvenience of rehearing cases she handled…

Evans also suspended Crawford from her job pending an internal investigation. She has been a law clerk/staff attorney in his office since 2011, and makes nearly $57,000 a year.

Evans made the move after a meeting with his executive committee.

“The public’s confidence in the judiciary is the cornerstone of our system of justice, and I have taken the steps necessary to preserve that confidence,” Evans said in the statement. “Because the investigation is pending, I believe it is inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

Chief Judge Timothy Evans has removed Judge Valarie Turner from her current duties in Markham and has reassigned her to restricted non-judicial duty in Chicago for the time being.

I have appeared in front of Judge Turner many times (as well as her husband, who is also a Judge) and just saw both of them yesterday.  I have nothing bad to say about this judge, and I hope this turns out to be a mistake.

The only time that I have ever heard of something like this is  former Cook County Judge Ray Sodini, one of the judges who was caught up in the Greylord scandal, who is also remembered mostly for calling in and having a court bailiff handle his morning court call when he was too hung over to make it to court.  (Which is not meant to imply that Judge Valarie Turner is anything like Judge Ray Sodini, who was both an alcoholic and corrupt.  I imagine that Judge Turner’s mistake, assuming that this is true, is that she made a serious lapse in judgement.).

Beware of anyone who promises to “fix” a case

This summer, I’ve been reading a couple of first hand accounts of the Greylord scandal (one by Assistant State’s Attorney Terrence Hake, the other by retired Judge Brockton Lockwood, both of whom went under undercover to expose court corruption).  So when I saw a story about a family that paid out $13,000 to a supposed fixer who was going to get their son’s two old DUI cases expunged and arrange for a 90 day sentence on his current case, I cringed.

(While I’m linking to books about the Greylord scandal, let me add a third book, by  reporters James Tuohy and Rob Warden.  All three of these books are worth reading, and since they each come at the same story from different angles, they are complementary to one another and can be read in tandem.).

According to the Daily Herald:

An elderly Glendale Heights couple is out $13,000 and their neighbor is behind bars, accused of deceiving them with promises of fixing a court case involving their son.

Joseph LaPuma, 66, of the 1000 block of Michael Court, is charged with theft by deception and is being held in DuPage County jail on $100,000 bail, according to court records.

LaPuma, the ex-husband of a DuPage County deputy clerk, said he could expunge previous DUI convictions of Joseph Ricchetti, 41, of Elmhurst and influence a pending aggravated DUI charge so that Ricchetti would serve 90 days in a rehabilitation facility, a substantially less severe punishment than he was facing…

LaPuma told the Ricchettis he had a connection through his ex-wife, whom he still lived with, to access the court documents…

Dewey Hartman, chief deputy circuit court clerk, said Wednesday neither LaPuma nor his ex-wife were capable of following through with LaPuma’s claims.

“The ex-wife does work for us, but she does not work in the criminal area of our office. She works in the civil division. As to him or her having access to any information that would provide (those services), the answer is no,” Hartman said. “Certainly he would not have had any access to anything. Nor would she. Our systems are very secure with the users and transactions capabilities that the individuals have on various case types. None of those things (promised by LaPuma) would have been possible.”

They had a term for the type of scam that LaPluma tried to pull off back in the Greylord days.  They called it “rainmaking.”  Rainmaking was when someone took money which was supposed to be used to bribe a Judge or a cop to fix a case but in fact the go- between had no intention of passing along the money, instead pocketing it for himself.  The rainmaker usually knew (or hoped) that the hoped for result was likely going to happen anyway, and took advantage of a defendant who was willing to pay for a “guaranteed result.”  If things didn’t work out as expected, the rainmaker could always explain it away, saying something like “the judge felt that there was too much attention being paid to this case” or give some other excuse.

Back before the Greylord scandal, corruption was endemic, particularly in Cook County. People did not have faith in the fairness of our legal system. Thanks to the efforts of people like ASA Hake and Judge Lockwood, the system has been cleaned up.  I began practicing law shortly after the Greylord reforms took place, and I am happy that I have never had to practice in such a system.  Thankfully, the system is such that this “fixer’s claims were bogus and just a scam.  The possibility that their son would get a multi-year prison sentence obviously upset these parents so much that they fell prey to a con artist.  I feel sympathy for their plight, but they were also breaking the law.  The last thing we need is to allow even the appearance of impropriety to cast any shadow over the integrity of our Clerks, Bailiffs, Police, Attorneys or Judges.

If anyone approaches you with such an offer, do not accept it.  Instead, report it!

Task Force Reports highlights problems with IL court fees

I have been a practicing attorney since 1994.  In that time, the cost of filing a civil lawsuit has gone up over 50%, with the additional costs going to fund the court system.

But far worse has been the exponential rise in court costs that are taxed on criminal defendants.  For example, in 1994, a typical Chicago DUI defendant would get a fine in the amount of $200 or $300 plus a $5 “spinal fund fee.”  Over the years, additional fees have been added, supposedly to pay for clerks, state’s attorneys, police, emergency services, etc. In 2016,  a typical defendant in a Chicago case pays an additional $1,339 in costs, in addition to fines.  Since these costs are now so high, they are often not given a “base fine” but still the total fines, fees and costs are over $1,000 more today than they were 20 years ago.  That is an increase of 333%.

It is no coincidence that the rise of these fines began after George H.W. Bush was hammered for breaking his “no new taxes” pledge.  Ever since, politicians in Illinois have found it much easier to raise additional income through regressive fines and sales taxes (probably the biggest increase over the last 20 years has been on cigarette taxes, even though smokers are addicted to the product and the demographics of smokers tend skew towards low income individuals).

These costs are applied regardless of a person’s income, so that they hit hardest on the poor.  Furthermore, the courts are not allowed to waive these costs or allow the defendant to work it off by doing community service.

The Illinois Statutory Court Fee Task Force has issued a report about this growing problem.

In their report they found four key problems:

  1.  The nature and purpose of assessments have changed over time, leading to a byzantine system that attempts to pass an increased share of the cost of court administration onto the parties to court proceedings.
  2. Court fines and fees are constantly increasing and are outpacing inflation
  3. There is excessive variation across the state in the amount of assessments for the same type of proceedings.
  4. The cumulative impact of the assessments imposed on parties to civil lawsuits and defendants in criminal and traffic proceedings imposes severe and disproportionate impacts on low- and moderate-income Illinois residents.

Their recommendations;

  1. The Illinois General Assembly should enact a schedule for court assessments that promotes affordability and transparency.
  2. The General Assembly and the Supreme Court should authorize amendments to the current civil fee waiver statute and related Supreme Court Rule, respectively, to provide financial relief from assessments in civil cases to Illinois residents living in or near poverty.
  3. The General Assembly should authorize a uniform assessment schedule for criminal and traffic case types that is consistent throughout the state.
  4. The General Assembly and the Supreme Court should authorize the waiver or reduction of assessments, but not judicial fines, imposed on criminal defendants living in or near poverty.
  5. The General Assembly and the Supreme Court should modify the process by which fines for minor traffic offenses are calculated under Supreme Court Rule 529.
  6. The General Assembly should routinely consult a checklist of important considerations before proposing new assessments, and should periodically consult the checklist in reviewing existing assessments.

I hope the legislature gives the Task Force’s report due consideration and implements their suggestions.

Court guard arrested for stealing $100 from person going through security checkpoint

mcclainFrom the Chicago Tribune, story by Dan Hinkel:

A security guard at the Lake County Courthouse has been charged with stealing about $100 from a court visitor who was going through a security checkpoint on his way into the building, authorities said.

Nikita McClain, 27, of Waukegan, was arrested at the courthouse Wednesday, the day after the alleged theft, and she was freed after posting $150 bail, said Sgt. Sara Balmes of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. McClain is charged with theft of less than $500, Balmes said.

McClain has been fired from the private security company that employs the people who check courthouse visitors on the way into the building, Chief John Byrne said. Sheriff’s deputies patrol courtrooms, hallways and other parts of the building.

A courthouse visitor complained of missing the money after passing through the entrance Tuesday afternoon, Balmes said. Visitors have to remove items from their pockets on the way through metal detectors. The man put about $100 in a bin, but the money was missing when he got through the checkpoint, Byrne said.

Cook County Clerk introduces a new mobile app

courtappIronically, at the same time that Timothy Evans, Presiding Judge of Cook County is prohibiting the general public from bringing cell phones into court, Dorothy Brown, the Clerk of the Circuit Court is introducing her own mobile app called “Court Clerk Mobile App.”

I downloaded the app and gave it a test spin. It worked very nicely. You can use it to look up a civil or traffic case, get information on court locations, and find out court fees and costs.

You can get more information at: http://www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org/?section=MobileApp