Legal scholars are raising concerns about Cook County judges who approve subpoenas to witnesses for court hearings that don’t exist.
For years, according to Public Defender Sharone Mitchell Jr.’s office, judges have been approving the subpoenas, which command witnesses to appear in court when they’re really headed to an office of prosecutors to help them prepare.
“That’s improper,” said Northwestern University law professor Thomas Geraghty, an expert on legal ethics. “The only thing that the subpoena can require is that a witness appear in that judge’s courtroom and before that judge. Not anywhere else.”
Last summer, a subpoena approved by Judge Peggy Chiampas ordered a witness in a murder case to appear in her courtroom. But the case wasn’t up on that date. There was no hearing.
“Please come to Room 12B32 before going to court,” the subpoena instructed the witness, referring to an office of prosecutors in a building adjacent to the courthouse.
“The subpoena entered by Judge Chiampas seems misleading, especially if there [are] no official court proceedings scheduled in the case,” said University of Illinois Chicago law professor Kevin Hopkins, an expert on attorney and judicial ethics. “Additionally, it may seem as if the court is specifically working with the prosecution in a case.”
When the witness didn’t show up, she was prosecuted for contempt of court. In that contempt case, she spent weeks in jail and then was ordered onto electronic monitoring.
At a March 4 hearing in the contempt case, Assistant State’s Attorney Kimellen Chamberlain said these prep subpoenas are issued “every day in this building,” according to a transcript of the hearing.
Last week that witness sued State’s Attorney Kim Foxx in federal court, seeking a ban on the prep subpoenas.
Foxx’s office didn’t answer questions about issuing subpoenas for court hearings that don’t exist.
Neither did Chief Judge Timothy Evans.