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Last month, the Appellate Court of Illinois in the First District handed down a decision in Illinois v. Glass that reinforces the urgent need for reform regarding some of the primary avenue through which Illinois courts collect money from criminal defendants. In a ruling delivered by Justice Mikva, the Court reiterated that a defendant’s posted bond money cannot be used reimburse the county for providing a public defender unless a hearing has been held and findings made about the accused person’s ability to pay. In the Cook County trial court reviewed in this case, the court inquired only as to how many times Mr. Glass appeared before the court before concluding that using $500 of his posted bond to reimburse the county was “appropriate.” Though authorized under Illinois law, reimbursement for public defense services, other appellate decisions make clear than reimbursement should take place “only where the trial court finds that a defendant has an ability to pay.”

The decision expresses frustration at the regularity with which trial courts fail to conduct adequate hearings before taking bond money for reimbursement purposes and the resulting waste of appellate court resources spent reviewing such decisions. “Our supreme court has repeatedly admonished trial courts of their duty to hold a proper hearing before imposing fees for the services of appointed counsel. … We hope that this practice has ceased and the appeals we see on this issue are simply those that are still working their way through the judicial system.”

In addition to reviewing the public defender reimbursement, the appellate court vacated a portion of the $2,839 in fines and fees that were assessed against Mr. Glass. Justice Mikva found that a number of the fines and fees were imposed incorrectly, some in clear violation of their authorizing statutes. The Court, seemingly exasperated, “urge[s] both the State in seeking these fees and the trial courts in awarding them to avoid imposing fees on criminal defendants that are not authorized by statute.” The frequency with which fines and fees are improperly assessed highlights the need for improved training and oversight regarding fines, fees, and costs at the trial court level. Such improvements at the initial stage will result in better experiences for defendants and preserve judicial resources.

Chicago Appleseed has been working to address both these issues for a number of years. Last fall, we testified against a Cook County Board budget amendment that sought to institutionalize the practice of reimbursing the county with bond money by using it to fund positions in the public defender’s office.  Though legal, forcing impoverished defendants to pay for public defense violates the right to an attorney guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

In addition, when the courts regularly fail to return bond money, fewer people will be bonded out, resulting in increased pretrial at the county’s expense. More importantly, taking posted bond money significant harms the families and communities who are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, and particularly African-American communities. Attempts to fund the costs of a constitutionally required public defense on the backs of Cook County’s poorest and most vulnerable communities are unconscionable and unsustainable.

In the same vein, our criminal court system should not be funded through the assessment of fines, fees, and costs against court users. In May of 2016, Chicago Appleseed and our partners at Chicago Council of Lawyers released a report detailing the devastating, unfair, and possibly illegal use of fines, fees, and costs in Illinois’s criminal courts. In June of 2016, a special Task Force of the Illinois Supreme Court issued a complementary report agreeing on the urgent need for reform of court assessments in civil, criminal, and traffic cases to improve transparency and fairness and making a number of recommendations.

A number of the recommendations made in both reports, including complete and partial fee waivers for indigent defendants, are now proposed as part of HB 2591, The Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act, introduced by Representative Steven Andersson and backed by a number of bar associations and policy organizations. You can read more about HB 2591’s impact and supporters on this fact sheet. Please contact Sharlyn Grace if you are interested in supporting The Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act or Appleseed’s other advocacy work in this area.

Last week, the Cook County Court took an important step forward in ensuring Chicagoans arrested by CPD are able to exercise their constitutional right to an attorney. Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans signed General Administrative Order No. 2017-01 that enables people in the custody of Chicago Police Department to have access to an attorney free of charge at police stations. Public defenders will now be available to arrestees from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays. During all other hours, individuals will have access to attorneys from the non-profit First Defense Legal Aid (FDLA). Signs providing arrestees with the phone number to reach a public defender or FDLA attorney will be posted in all police stations. Chicago Appleseed is proud to have been part of the negotiations with stakeholders that made this possible.

CC license photo by V1ctor CasaleThe new program marks an important change in criminal justice policy in Cook County. Prior to this order, indigent defendants have not been able to access public defenders until their first appearance in court. Statistics obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by FDLA showed that out of 86,677 arrests that took place in Chicago in 2016, only 838, or less than one percent, were able to consult with a lawyer at the police station. For juvenile arrestees, access to an attorney was even more rare. Only two out of 1,000 children in police custody had an attorney present during police questioning.

In 1966, the Supreme Court interpreted the Fifth Amendment’s right against self-incrimination to include the right to counsel during custodial interrogations in the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona. The first 48 hours after arrest are when arrestees are most vulnerable to rights violations such as coerced confessions. Despite this, the overwhelming majority of indigent Cook County defendants have been unable to access legal counsel while in custody.

In the context of Cook County’s high rate of wrongful convictions, arrestees’ lack of access to public defenders at this critical time is especially worrisome. Since 1989, approximately 140 individuals in Cook County have been exonerated following wrongful convictions. In most cases, those wrongfully convicted were the victims of official misconduct, including coercive tactics by police that produced false confessions.

Chicago Appleseed believes that the new policy will protect the rights of all arrestees, and prevent some innocent people from being convicted and sent to prison at great financial and social costs to taxpayers and communities. Chicago Appleseed looks forward to working with DataMade, a civic technology company, to demonstrate the effectiveness of this important criminal justice reform. This research will document how many arrestees will get legal representation, how long it takes to get this representation, and what outcomes occur because of this representation. Our goals are to document and evaluate how providing lawyers to arrestees helps protect their due process rights, and helps the criminal justice system be fairer and more effective.

We applaud this move toward a fairer administration of justice for all persons.

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.

Results:

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

All judges seeking retention in Cook County were retained.

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.    

Has your membership in the Chicago Council of Lawyers lapsed? Now is the perfect time to renew and join in the Collaboration for Justice with the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice.

In 2015, CCL members, working with Chicago Appleseed staff, with pro bono council from law firms like Latham & Watkins and DLA Piper and with court staff, accomplished a lot. You can read our full annual report here, but some highlights include:

  • Graduating the first participants in the ACT (Access to Community Treatment) Court, an innovative, life-changing program that provides alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders with a history of substance abuse;
  • Ensuring that the courts follow procedures enabling indigent defendants to exercise their right to legal representation under the Sixth Amendment;
  • Helping enact a pilot program to field-test drugs, which will dramatically reduce the time defendants are incarcerated before determining probable cause; and
  • Planning for a new consolidated Domestic Relations court that bolsters the rights of children to get the child support they need, regardless of the marital status of their parents;
  • Preparing a proposal to bring digital recording equipment to high-volume courtrooms with a large number of self-represented litigants.

CCL members provide support and direction to court reform projects through involvement in the various advisory committees and also have opportunities to draft reports and proposals for reform, as well as editorials on behalf of the committees.

Finally, the Chicago Council of Lawyers remains an important voice in the evaluation of judicial candidates with our evaluations being called “particularly thorough” by the Chicago Tribune. As a member of the Chicago Council of Lawyers, you can contribute to this vital project. Be part of Chicago’s public interest bar associate and renew your membership or join today!

We are excited to announce that an anonymous donor has offered to match every contribution made to Chicago Appleseed and the Chicago Council of Lawyers – the Collaboration for Justice  — between October 1 and December 31, 2014, up to $40,000. Please help us maximize this match with a donation before December 31st. We appreciate your support of our work toward social justice and systemic reform. For more information, including a summary of our 2014 program accomplishments and a reply card, please CLICK HERE.  For those wanting to make their contributions electronically, please visit:

http://www.chicagoappleseed.org/get-involved/donate/

 

Judicial Election Results for the November 4, 2014 General Election

 

All judges running for retention in Cook County were retained.

 

There were two contested elections.  In the Fourth Subcircuit, John J. Mahoney won the election to fill the Billik Vacancy.  In the Twelfth Subcircuit, James Pieczonka won the election to fill the Jordan Vacancy.

For the November 4, 2014 General Election, the Chicago Council of Lawyers evaluated the judges seeking retention and the candidates seeking to become judges. For an evaluation report, please CLICK HERE. For a Ballot Summary of the contested and retention judicial races, please CLICK HERE. Please note:  Voters will find at the top of the judicial ballot a series of races to fill judicial vacancies.  In most of these races, the candidates won the March 2014 primary election and face no opposition on the November 4, 2014 ballot.  Following these races on the ballot, voters will find the retention judicial ballot where they will vote “Yes” or “No” for each of the judges.  The ballot summary from the Chicago Council of Lawyers includes only contested and retention judicial races.  Information about all judges and judicial candidates on the November 4, 2014 ballot can be found in the judicial evaluation report of the Chicago Council of Lawyers.

Thank you to those of you who supported our successful Annual Fundraising Luncheon held on October 1st.  For a copy of the keynote address by Juliana Stratton on criminal justice reform in Cook County, please CLICK HERE.  We distributed at the Luncheon a description of the accomplishments of the Collaboration for Justice.  For a copy of Collaboration for Justice: Programs and Accomplishments of the Chicago Council of Lawyers and the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, please CLICK HERE.

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