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Thank you to those of you who used the evaluations of the Chicago Council of Lawyers to help you vote for qualified judges in the November 2016 general election.  There were some contested races to fill judicial vacancies, although most judicial elections being decided in the November 2016 general election were uncontested.  In addition, there were nearly 60 judges seeking retention to the bench.  The quality of our judiciary is a critical part of our democracy, and informed voting for judges is necessary if we are to have good judges who are independent.


For Cook County Judicial evaluation results in contested races to fill vacancies, please click HERE.

All judges seeking retention in Cook County were retained.

The Chicago Council of Lawyers has released its judicial evaluations for the November 2016 election.  The Council provides a written report providing short biographies and the reasons for its findings, both for judges seeking retention and for candidates who won their March 2016 primary and are seeking to fill a judicial vacancy in the November 2016 election.  The Committee to Elect Qualified Judges also provides a sample ballot using the judicial evaluation results of the Council.  For a report detailing the evaluation results for judges seeking retention and for judicial candidates seeking to fill vacancies, please click HERE.  For a sample ballot, please click NEXT.

On August 30, Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement on police accountability and a draft ordinance to replace the Independent Police Review Authority with a new agency. The Chicago Council of Lawyers offers its thoughts below.

Chicago Council of Lawyers Communication about
Mayor’s Proposed Police Accountability Ordinance.

In the first week of October, Mayor Emanuel is scheduled to propose to the City Council an ordinance to create two new agencies. The first, the Civil Office of Police Accountability (COPA), will investigate complaints against police officers of alleged misconduct. The second, the new office of Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety will audit COPA’s performance of its duties.

The Chicago Council of Lawyers is part of the Chicago Civil Rights Collaborative for Police Reform that has met and advocated with City officials. We are pleased that the Mayor’s office has made important strides toward an ordinance that will grant significant independence for these two new agencies. But the ordinance must include additional critical safeguards to ensure that policing in Chicago is fully accountable and transparent to the public.

First, these two new agencies must be adequately funded with a budget that is insulated from politics.

Second, both agencies must have the ability to retain their own counsel to enforce subpoenas they have issued. Normally attorneys with the Chicago Corporation Counsel’s office enforce a city agency’s subpoenas. But attorneys with the Corporation Counsel’s office also defend police officers and the City in lawsuits alleging police misconduct, and thus a conflict of interest exists. We suggest that the ordinance allow recipients of agency subpoenas to file written objections, and require each agency to respond in writing, before the agency may go to court to enforce its subpoena. We also suggest the cost of an attorney who enforces an agency’s subpoena come from that agency’s budget. These two provisions should ensure that the agencies do not abuse their subpoena power.

Third, for a period of three years, COPA should not be able to hire former CPD officers as investigators. While we understand that the Chief Administrator of COPA might want free reign to recruit and hire the most capable investigators, the public concern around bias—based on a long history of perceived bias in the CPD culture—is justified and outweighs that interest. At the end of the three year period, the Mayor, the City Council and the public should reconsider the continuing need for this provision.

Finally, we understand that the new Deputy Inspector for Public Safety will have the power to make written recommendations to the Police Department and related agencies. If such an agency rejects a recommendation, it must be required promptly to explain its reasons in writing, and the recommendation and the agency’s response must be promptly posted on the web page of the Deputy Inspector for Public Safety.

ccl-logo-onlyThe Chicago Council of Lawyers will continue to work with City officials, other legal and policy advocacy organizations, and community-based groups to promote the changes that are needed to produce lasting police reform and accountability. We urge our Mayor and City Council to include the above provisions in the upcoming ordinance.

You can download a copy of our statement here.

In April 2016, the Police Accountability Task Force issued their 190-page report: Recommendations for Reform: Restoring Trust between the Chicago Police and the Communities They Serve. The Report addresses many subjects, ranging from how to improve police-community relations to how to respond to persons with mental health problems.

We have released our review of the report, focusing on the need for legal oversight and accountability of the Chicago Police Department, issues we have long taken an interest in. The statement on the report is available now on this website.

The Collaboration for Justice—the joint social justice effort of Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice and the Chicago Council of Lawyers—has released a report on the impact and legality of court fines, fees and costs. The report details how the recent trend of shifting court costs to low-income and indigent defendants is creating a cycle of fines, fees and increased jail time that inevitably costs the court more in administration and enforcement than it collects. The report, its attachment A (chart of mandatory and discretionary court costs, fines, and fees), and the executive summary, are available.

The Administrative Office of the Illinois Court has convened the Statutory Task Force on  Court Costs, Fees, and Fines which has been examining the efficacy and impact of imposing fines, fees and costs of low-income individuals. We look forward to their recommendations and next steps, and hope that our report becomes part of the resulting discussion.

Our report—completed with assistance from Chicago Appleseed staff, the Collaboration for Justice’s Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, and pro bono attorneys at Baker & McKenzie and Loevy & Loevy—shows that up to 85% of people leaving prison owe some form of criminal justice debt, an alarming increase compared to 25% in 1991. There are approximately 90 different fines, fees, and costs imposed by Illinois criminal courts. With no current limits on the number of these that can be imposed on a defendant, the amounts can reach thousands of dollars, an impossible sum for most defendants.

In a system where 75% of defendants charged with misdemeanors and 80% of felony-charged defendants are indigent and entitled to court appointed counsel, this is unconscionable and unsustainable.  It also may be unconstitutional. The Illinois Constitution bans the imposition of any fine that does not serve the purpose of rehabilitating the defendant, meaning that fines imposed in order to generate revenue are unconstitutional.

Illinois law does not require trial courts to impose payment of discretionary fines, fees and costs as a condition of probation or conditional discharge. Neither is payment of mandatory fines required as a condition of probation or conditional discharge. Therefore, our report suggests reforms based in urging judges to exercise their discretion to not impose fines, fees and costs on low-income and indigent defendants, and revising the statutes, court rules and fee structures in order to rationalize and reduce the number and amount of fines, fees and costs that can be imposed on any defendant. We also recommend ways to improve courts’ process for determining a defendant’s ability to pay.

Reform would permit indigent defendants to complete the terms of their probation or conditional discharge without unpayable debts. It would reduce the over-incarceration of the poor and increase defendants’ ability to successfully reintegrate into society and become productive members of the community.  It would reduce administrative costs associated with futile collections efforts and enhance confidence in the courts as places for justice, not for profit.


Thank you to those of you who used the judicial evaluations of the Chicago Council of Lawyers to help you vote for qualified judges.  The integrity and independence of our judges depend upon an informed electorate who vote for judges on the basis of their impartiality and quality of their judging. Thank you for taking the time to find out about the women and men who make the decisions that affect all of us. For the unofficial judicial primary election results, please click 2016 judicial election results.



The Primary Election in Illinois is March 15th, and early voting is happening now. The Chicago Council of Lawyers wants voters to focus on electing the most qualified judges possible, but there are other races that affect our courts, as well. To provide more information about the race for the Cook County Circuit Court Clerk, we asked the three Democratic candidates to complete a questionnaire about their qualifications and plans for the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk. Two of these candidates returned their completed questionnaire, while the third, Michelle Harris, did not respond to our requests. We release to the public the questionnaires for Dorothy Brown and Jacob Meister. We thank these candidates for their cooperation.

The Chicago Council of Lawyers has released its judicial evaluations for the March 15, 2016 Primary Election.  You can view or download the Judicial Evaluation Report in alphabetical order, the Judicial Evaluation Report in ballot order, or a summary sample ballot from the Committee to Elect Qualified Judges, using the judicial evaluations of the Chicago Council of Lawyers. The integrity and independence of our judges depend upon an informed electorate who vote for judges on the basis of their impartiality and quality of their judging. Thank you for taking the time to find out about the women and men seeking the bench, who will make decisions that affect all of us.    

The Civil Liberties Committee of the Chicago Council of Lawyers has called on the state of Illinois to regulate the government’s use of Stingray technology. On January 20, 2016, Representative Ann Williams of Chicago introduced Illinois House Bill 4470 to regulate the use by government bodies of cell site simulator devices. A similar measure is being introduced in the Illinois Senate under the sponsorship of Senator Daniel Biss. These “stingray” surveillance devices mimic the towers to which cell phones connect. The device tricks cell phones within its range to connect to it, instead of to legitimate towers. The technology can be used to obtain the identifying number of a “target” phone, but in the process collects identifying information from all other cell phones in the area. You may read the Committee’s statement here.

Imagine that a police officer shoots a fleeing suspect. Imagine further that in his official report, the officer falsely claims that the suspect lunged at him with a knife. If a video clearly shows that the suspect did no such thing, should the officer be given the opportunity to change his original account?

Under current policy in the city of Chicago, the answer is “yes.” The terms of the city’s collective bargaining agreement with the police union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), permit an officer to “clarify and amend” his original report of an incident after reviewing video or audio that captured it.

The Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL) is calling for an end to this practice. In a statement released this week, the CCL declared that the policy “may discourage some officers from taking seriously their duty to tell the truth in the first instance.” They note that other public employees are not allowed to amend statements made in the course of their duties, and that witnesses in official investigations also lack such a right. Therefore, the CCL is urging the Mayor’s Office and the FOP to remove the “clarify and amend” provision from their collective bargaining agreement.

In their statement, the CCL also called for another important measure to enhance police accountability: identifying and monitoring police officers who are have been named in unusually high numbers of misconduct complaints. Evidence shows that a small minority of officers are involved in a large proportion of misconduct incidents. According to one analysis, just one percent of the police force was responsible for more than one-quarter of all damage payments incurred from police misconduct lawsuits between 2009 and 2011. A separate report found that between 2011 and 2015, 10 percent of the officers who had received complaints generated 30 percent of the total number of departmental complaints.

Chicago’s failure to discipline the small number of police who repeatedly engage in misconduct comes at a high cost. It creates a climate of mistrust of the police, dishonors the vast majority of officers who serve the public honorably, and results in a substantial drain on scarce public resources. Over the past decade, police brutality-related lawsuits cost Chicago taxpayers more than half a billion dollars.

To address this problem, the CCL recommends that the city take four steps. Step one is identifying and closely monitoring officers named in an unusually high number of complaints—the CCL suggests 10 or more complaints in the last three years, or more than three complaints per year for those officers who have been on the force for fewer than three years. Step two involves setting up an early intervention system that identifies officers with performance problems and provides them with coaching and close supervision. Step three requires that the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) prioritize the investigation of officers named in an abnormally high number of complaints. The fourth and final step calls for IPRA to release more complete police misconduct records and publish them more frequently.

In the wake of the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, the need for greater police accountability is acute. The reforms the CCL is recommending are essential for ensuring that accountability, and for building a system that fulfills the promise of justice for all. For the complete Policy Statement issued by the Chicago Council of Lawyers, please click here.

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