This Chicago Criminal attorney is confident that many judges in Cook County now know what it feels like to be a defendant. She’s posted here, here, and here about the problem of judicial independence when judges make unpopular rulings.
The media’s big story has found some judges “ending the work day early”.
The Cook County Circuit Court is one of the largest court systems in the world. More than 400 judges work here -- when they're working, that is. We're paying these judges more than a $170,000 a year and it adds up fast: More than $70 million a year in judge's salaries in Cook County alone, for a state that's broke.
On Monday, a Fox Chicago News / Better Government Association joint investigation found some judges leaving their courtrooms by early afternoon.
"When a judge works a half a day, we're still paying for 10 other people to work a full day because people are assigned to the courtroom," said Andy Shaw, executive director of the Better Government Association.
"If judges work a full day, we're moving those cases and we're saving money," said Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri.
Attorneys we spoke with say that in some courtrooms, a judge's workday depends on the number of arrests the night before. Some days are very long, others --not so long.
"We are working towards a system that is fair, that is expeditious and is just," said Chief Cook County Judge Timothy Evans. He said that if our investigation shows him that a judge's day ends too soon, he'll assign the judge more cases. "And we will take appropriate action against any judge who is not carrying out his or her responsibilities."
But judges are elected. So their supervisors can do little more than hand out warnings to lazy judges, or transfer them.
"We ask them to put in a full day's work in for a full day's pay," said Judge Evans.
Many of us who practice as trial lawyers know that there won’t be a camera when a judge gets called in the middle of the night to sign a search warrant, an arrest warrant, or when a judge is in chambers or at home reviewing case law in order to issue an opinion. That’s not as exciting.