Cook County Public Defender Wants More Lawyers In Police Stations | WBEZ
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Cook County Public Defender Wants More Lawyers In Police Stations

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli says a program she created to get publicly-funded defense attorneys inside Chicago police stations has resulted in 100 would-be defendants being released from police custody without charges.

Campanelli says dropping the cases served justice and saved money by cutting off bad cases early in the criminal justice process, and she wants to expand the program.

“Everybody in Cook County needs a lawyer,” Campanelli said, while addressing the Cook County Board of Commissioners in an annual budget hearing Tuesday. “It's so good for the criminal system. I've been trying to tell law enforcement, because I speak to law enforcement about the unit, how much credibility it brings to the entire court system when a lawyer is there at the police station.”

Campanelli said she wants the “police station representation unit,” with defense attorneys on call 24 hours per day to “grow and grow,” but the proposed FY2020 budget for the public defender’s office keeps the total number of public defenders working in the police station unit stagnant.

In total, Campanelli said she wanted 22 new positions to be added to her office in the new budget, but the budget presented by President Toni Preckwinkle included just five new positions.

Campanelli said a bigger issue than the number of budgeted positions is filling vacancies created during a county-wide budget crisis in 2017 after Preckwinkle’s pop tax was overturned.

“Because of the lag from about a year and a half ago where I wasn't able to hire anybody, for a substantial period of time, we obviously had many, many vacancies. So it's taken me over a year to fill those vacancies,” Campanelli said.

Campanelli said her office was close to filling 20 of 47 vacant positions.

During the hearing, county board members applauded Campanelli for her good work and dedication to defending Cook County residents who are unable to afford private attorneys. The toughest questions she got were about why Campanelli wasn’t getting more funding and staff in the new budget.

Campanelli told commissioners that through August of this year, public defenders had been appointed in more than 75,000 cases with a staff of about 700.

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at psmith@wbez.org.

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