Courts Not to Blame for Surge in Crime but ‘New Solutions’ Needed Not Finger Pointing, Chief Judge Says

Video: Cook County’s chief judge says crime is a siege on the city, but alleged criminals still deserve due process. (Produced by Amanda Vinicky)

Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans said again Thursday that decisions by judges to release those charged with violent crime while they await trial is not fueling the surge of crime in Chicago, but acknowledged that “new solutions” were necessary to address the fact that the average resident now “lives in fear” of becoming a victim of violent crime.

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“That fear is at the forefront of all our minds, no matter where you live,” Evans said. 

During a speech to the Union League Club of Chicago, Evans said he would assign five additional judges to the criminal division of the Cook County Court in an effort to ensure that cases progress from charges to resolution faster. The most complex cases should take no longer than two years to resolve, while the simplest felony cases should be decided in six months or less.

“No matter how horrible the crime happens to be that they are charged with” everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence, Evans said.

Cook County’s judges are under enormous pressure and face “an enormous burden” to decide whether to release someone on bail, or to order that they be monitored electronically if released, Evans said. 

Even before the violent crime surge began — and before the court system shut down amid the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic — Mayor Lori Lightfoot has repeatedly blamed the court system for fueling the increase in crime by releasing violent criminals back onto Chicago’s streets.

However, there is no evidence that defendants out on pretrial release are driving the high rates in violence. Evans said again Thursday that if those charged with a crime do not present a clear and present threat, they are entitled to be released while they wait to be tried.

“We have not felt it necessary to scapegoat any of our fellow stakeholders in the criminal justice process,” Evans said. “Oh, we might differ from time to time, but I think you could easily say that we share the same objective to have a safe and peaceful community.”

Evans said the city, Chicago Police Department and Cook County State’s Attorney Office should work in concert to reduce crime and prevent recidivism.

“I think it is better for us to work collaboratively and try to not point fingers at any one entity,” Evans said. “If we can do it together, I think we are much better off.”

However, after his speech Evans told reporters that his office was investigating what he called “disturbing” allegations that members of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office were failing to ask judges to detain defendants that present a danger to the community. Without that request, judges have a limited ability to keep someone in jail while they await trial, Evans said.

Foxx’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from WTTW News.

Evans’ speech marked his first public appearance since he rejected Lightfoot’s call to prevent judges from releasing defendants to await their trial outside jail while being monitored with an electronic bracelet.

An analysis by the Chicago Tribune found that Lightfoot’s letter urged the change — which Evans said would violate the constitution — based on data that was misleading, flawed and, in some cases, false.

Even after that report, Lightfoot said she would not stop calling for Evans to change how the courts operate.

“These judges are operating seemingly without any regard for public safety and not taking that into consideration as they are mandated to do by state law is a huge problem and I’m going to keep pressing that point,” Lightfoot said on Jan. 18.

Evans said Thursday it was “unfortunate” that Lightfoot’s letter contained “false” information.

No one charged with murder or attempted murder has been released on electronic monitoring since October 2021, Evans said.

“I didn’t take her letter personally,” Evans said.

However, it was “damaging” that Lightfoot shared “erroneous” information, because it confuses people about what is actually happening in Cook County courts, Evans said.

A spokesperson for Lightfoot did not respond to a request for comment about Evans’ statements from WTTW News.

Evans warned there is no “magic potion” to reduce crime, but called for new efforts that protect witnesses, provide services for those at risk of committing crimes or being victimized and reduce poverty.

Evans’ speech took place nearly simultaneously as Cook County Judge Susana Ortiz ordered Emilio Corripio, 16, held without bail. Corripio has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of 8-year-old Melissa Ortega, who was shot in the head while crossing a street in Little Village Saturday morning while holding her mother’s hand.

Police arrested Corripio three times in 2021 for aggravated vehicular hijacking and was sentenced to three years probation in December after being charged in juvenile court.

Evans said he could not comment on Corripio’s case, but said the purpose of juvenile court was to rehabilitate children and teens in trouble.

Juvenile court judges make decisions — including whether they should be released on electronic monitoring or probation — with the goal of putting troubled children and teens on a path back to school and employment with therapy or mentoring services, Evans said.

“No, we don’t give up on the kids,” Evans said. “We continue to try to help them.”

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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