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08.16.13 Chief Judge Evans Orders Indigence Hearing Reform in Response to Chicago Appleseed Investigation

Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court, Timothy C. Evans, issued General Administrative Order No. 2013-11 yesterday in response to a Chicago Appleseed investigation that uncovered a practice where judges were denying defendants a public defender without the required indigence hearing. The Chief Judge’s order and accompanying memoranda require the courts to conduct hearings on indigence based on the required financial affidavits and in line with Illinois statute and federal constitutional law. Please contact Ali Abid at aliabid@chicagoappleseed.org to receive a copy of the General Administrative Order and accompanying memorandum.

The Chicago Appleseed investigation done in collaboration with the Chicago Council of Lawyers uncovered a practice where judges routinely denied public defenders to defendants simply because they had posted bond and not upon a statutorily required indigence hearing. Furthermore, in cases where a public defender was assigned, the public defender’s office would often be reimbursed from the defendant’s bond money on a motion by the assistant state’s attorney – also without an underlying indigence hearing.

Essentially this practice forces defendants to choose between pre-trial freedom and a public defense and is in clear violation of Illinois statute and jurisprudence, as well as the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

We reported our findings to Chief Judge Evans and worked closely with his office in developing solutions to this problem. We commend Chief Judge Evans for taking this major step in combatting this problem and for bringing Cook County back into compliance with state and federal law.

Though this represents a major victory for us, for Cook County, and for the indigent, our work is not done. Our investigation revealed that this phenomenon is both routine and widespread and in order to make sure the order is adhered to there is a need for a monitoring program.