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Judge Mary Marubio, the presiding judge of the Pretrial Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, sits in her courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse Friday, Sept. 22, 2023.

Judge Mary Marubio, the presiding judge of the Pretrial Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, sits in her courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse Friday, Sept. 22, 2023.

Pat Nabong

Cook County judges talk about their first week without cash bail. ‘The world is looking at us.’

Cook County Judge Charles Beach took time to explain why he was ordering the man before him jailed.

“This is your hearing today, so I want you to understand what this hearing is all about,” Beach told the man in his 20’s who was charged with having an AR-15-style rifle, a 45-round magazine and body armor.

Under reforms that went into effect last week, Beach could not set a cash bail. He could either order the man released with conditions, like electronic monitoring, or hold him for trial if he thought the man posed a danger or would not show up for hearings in his case.

The man was already on probation for another gun charge, so Beach ordered the man jailed. “There are not conditions I believe you can comply with,” the judge told him.

Despite glitches in other courthouses, the first week of bail reform in Cook County went relatively smoothly.

But hearings were slower than usual, marked by extensive arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys as they tested guidelines under the Pretrial Fairness Act, which made Illinois the first state to completely eliminate cash bail.

“The old bond hearings were fast, and they were designed to be fast,” said Beach, a supervising judge of the Pretrial Division who once worked as a private defense attorney.

Now, the law’s backers hope, there will be more time for judges to consider whether a person should be kept behind bars, separated from jobs and families, and not simply because they cannot afford a cash bail.

In another courtroom, Judge Mary Marubio heard the case of a young woman accused of pepper-spraying Chicago police officers during Mexican Independence Day festivities downtown.

The new law requires prosecutors to file a motion if they want someone held before trial. They did not in the woman’s case, so it was up to Marubio to decide what conditions should be placed on her release.

The judge noted the woman had a young child and was employed. A court assessment did not find her to be a risk or a danger. So Marubio released her on the minimum conditions all defendants must now follow: Don’t commit a new crime. and show up for court.

In another case, Judge Susana Ortiz ordered a Los Angles woman released, even though prosecutors had asked for her to be held, arguing there was a risk she would not appear in future hearings because of where she lived.

The woman was accused of carrying cocaine in her suitcase at O’Hare Airport during a layover between Brazil and Los Angeles.

But the judge noted the woman had only been charged with a low-level felony. Also, she was employed, took care of her elderly parents, and there was no evidence she even knew the drugs were hidden in the liner of her suitcase.

The judge ordered her released on the condition she turn over her passport.

In all three cases, the defendants had stood a good chance of being released ahead of their trial — if they could afford their bail.

“The purpose of this act is to create better pretrial outcomes for everyone, and that includes the defendant,” Marubio, the presiding judge of the Pretrial Division, told the Sun-Times Friday.

“It includes their life on the back end of the case, during the case,” she said. “They’re often a caregiver … bringing money into the household, so their absence from the household has a rippling effect for people who are not responsible for any of the circumstances that have been brought to court.”

Marubio had concerns in the months leading up to the law’s implementation on Sept. 18, particularly whether there were enough court personnel to conduct the more robust hearings the law requires.

“I was very concerned that we would be here 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock at night finishing the day’s calls, and then what that would mean for the domino effect with all the stakeholders,” she said.

That turned out not to be the case. Despite long days, hearings were largely completed before 5 p.m. But the full impact won’t be known for months.

For example, Cook County prosecutors only filed a single murder charge last week, the kind of case that is expected to see the most robust — and lengthy — hearings.

Neither side called witnesses during the hearings, another change that is expected to add significantly to the length of initial proceedings.

The law also allows for a delay of 24 to 48 hours in a case to allow for more investigation, but that was not done at all last week at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

Prosecutors filed just under 30 petitions for people to be detained out of hundreds of cases. Those petitions were approved by a judge in just over 70% of the cases.

By week’s end, not a single appeal had been made so far of a Cook County judge’s detention order or conditions of release. People have 14 days to appeal, but courthouse observers agreed it was a good sign.

In conversations with more than a dozen prosecutors, defense attorneys, clerks, judges and sheriff’s deputies, the reviews were nearly unanimous that bail reform had a successful rollout in Cook County.

In an elevator last Monday morning, a former prosecutor who is now a private defense attorney pronounced the reforms “a joke.” But by Friday, he was standing outside a courtroom and thoughtfully explaining to a family they wouldn’t have to post cash bail to keep their relative out of jail.

Marubio was widely applauded for her work in getting the county ready for reform. But she was quick to credit her predecessor, David Navarro, now an appeals court judge, for laying the groundwork.

A former private defense attorney, Marubio volunteered to be part of a group of judges picked by Chief Judge Tim Evans back in 2017 to enact reforms intended to slow down hearings and set new guidelines for judges to release people on bail they could afford.

As other judges in the group moved on after serving one or two years, Marubio remained and actively recruited other judges, eventually taking over as presiding judge when Navarro moved to the First District Appellate Court.

Marubio said she stayed to “change the culture of how bond hearings were held,” with an eye toward the elimination of cash bail. “It was pretty clear that was the direction of the activists and lawmakers,” she said.

The hearings last week featured stronger arguments on both sides. But many who observed the proceedings also remarked on the close collaboration among court officials.

Judge Beach chalked it up to “a sense of importance” that they were part of historic change.

“When something changes, you start to really think about it, right?” Beach said. “The world is looking at us. It’s time to put your best people forward. To put your best arguments forward.

“I hope that momentum remains with us.”

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