Judges' Penalty Box
J.A.I.L. News Journal
Los Angeles - January 19, 2001
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Judges' Penalty Box
January 14, 2001
BY ABDON M. PALLASCH STAFF REPORTER, Chicago Sun-Times
Cook County's [Illinois] "penalty box" for judges accused of misbehavior is getting crowded.
A sixth Circuit Court judge removed from his courtroom has been ushered into the ever-more-popular suite of offices on the Daley Center's 13th floor where accused judges shuffle paper while awaiting resolution of the charges against them.
Call it whatever you want: "The Penalty Box," the "The Sin Bin," "Camp Muni,"--it's bursting at the seams.
"It's the most I've ever heard of in modern times--it's a lot," laughed "Warden" Jacqueline Cox, presiding judge of Cook County Circuit Court's First Municipal Division (hence the "Camp Muni" nickname).
When Judge George J.W. Smith, under federal indictment, recuperates from heart surgery and reports back to work, "We may eventually have to double up, put another judge in the same office," Cox said.
In the past, judges handling administrative duties while removed from the courtroom were jokingly referred to by fellow judges as being on "The Sun-Times Call." (No, that's not self-promotion--it was a reference to those judges having little to do but twiddle their thumbs and read the newspaper all day.)
One Camp Muni judge who, attending a Blackhawks game with a friend recently, nodded toward the penalty box and said,"I know how they feel."
But Cox said the judges' hands are not that idle. The first municipal division gets 7,000 "pauper's petitions" a year. Those are requests from people seeking to have court costs waived because they are too poor.
Those petitions must be approved by a judge and that's the kind of work these judges can perform. They also can sign off on satisfactions and releases on cases handled in other judges' courtrooms.
"There's always paupers, always satisfactions of judgment--it's not like there's nothing to do," Cox said.
They also can preside over marriage court in the City Hall basement.
Well, all but one of the judges will perform marriages.
Judge Susan McDunn, who is in hot water for refusing to approve adoptions by lesbian couples, has religious convictions that tell her that "only God can sanction marriages," two other judges said.
Attorneys who defend judges at Camp Muni describe the paper-shuffling duties as make-work projects. They'd rather have their clients--who are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty--stay on the bench. A judge accused of mishandling a criminal case could still hear contract matters and a judge accused of botching a divorce could still sit in Traffic Court, they say.
"The real toll [on a judge] is going to work every day with no meaningful judicial work to do," one attorney said.
Chief Judge Donald O'Connell disagrees.
"I want to make sure that every citizen appearing in a courtroom be confident that the judge before whom they are appearing has no cloud over them," O'Connell said.
And while the work may not be as satisfying and challenging as what they handled before they were pulled from the bench, O'Connell said, "It's better for them to be coming into a courthouse on a daily basis doing whatever Judge Cox asks them to do than to give them a prolonged vacation period where they have nothing to do and continue to collect their salaries."
So, the judges perform the paperwork and talk with each other about how their respective cases are progressing. Generally, their cases progress slowly.
Associate Judge Oliver Spurlock has spent three years in Camp Muni waiting to be tried on charges from the Judicial Inquiry Board that he sexually harassed female prosecutors and court personnel at Criminal Court.
In addition to Spurlock and McDunn, other judges in Camp Muni include:
* The aforementioned Smith. A former prosecutor found "highly qualified" by bar groups, he was indicted on charges of withdrawing $20,000 from his account in three small increments to avoid triggering the notice banks make to the federal government of withdrawals greater than $10,000. The indictment did not mention the charge that sources say Smith's ex-wife made to federal investigators: The $20,000 was to bribe a politician to secure Smith's judgeship.
* Judge Jack Hynes. A highly rated former prosecutor who helped convict police officer Gregory Becker in the shooting of Streetwise vendor Joseph Gould, he is accused of failing to mention on his application to be a judge the fact that appellate courts reversed a few of his convictions because he failed to offer sufficient grounds for excusing black jurors.
* Judge Lambros J. Katrubis. He faces charges he falsely signed a friend's name to his income tax returns, failed to disqualify himself from a case involving his step-daughter, failed to excuse himself from a case involving a friend, and failed to disclose background items on his application to be a judge.
* Judge Adam D. Bourgeois Jr. The most recent guest at Camp Muni, he is charged with failing to disclose on his application to be a judge the fact his ex-wife had charged him with failing to pay child support. He also is charged with failing to disclose other debts.
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