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Judge Timothy Evans puts brakes on gun-court plan

Chief Judge Timothy Evanssays public needs “know whgoes here.”  |  Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Chief Judge Timothy Evanssays the public needs “to know what goes on here.” | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 3, 2012 6:46AM

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans has put the brakes on a new gun court, saying he was blindsided when he learned Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle was planning one.

On Wednesday, Preckwinkle announced in a news conference that the opening date for a gun court was set for July 1.

Evans fired off a letter to Preckwinkle and county commissioners saying he can’t consider such a request until he hears from judges, the state’s attorney and public defender. Evans said he asked his staff to study the gun-court approach.

Earlier this year, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis found that of more than 8,000 people sentenced between 2005 and March 2012, about 54 percent received probation and the others received prison or jail terms in Cook County criminal court cases.

Police officials said those figures showed a lack of certainty of punishment for people caught with a gun. Police and crime experts point to New York’s gun courts as one reason for that city’s huge decrease in crime.

Gun courts typically handle gun possession cases.

“Given the seriousness of Chicago’s gun violence problem, gun court seems like one of the more promising strategies for ensuring the gun crimes, including illegal gun-carrying, are met with swift, certain and consistent penalties,” said Roseanna Ander, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab. “It would be good to pilot gun court in perhaps one or two communities to see if it works for Cook County.”

But County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said he has doubts. He said the county experimented with gun courts for juveniles and they were scrapped because “they didn’t work very well.”

Suffredin added that Evans — not the county board — has the authority to create a gun court. “I think it’s a separation of powers issue,” he said.

Preckwinkle would not consider the possibility of Evans knocking down the gun-court proposal. “We’ve got seven months to work things through with the chief judge,” she said.

Evans and Preckwinkle have been locked in a tug-of-war over various court issues since she became president in 2010, and their political rivalry goes back decades. Starting in 1983, she twice tried unsuccessfully to unseat Evans, who was the 4th Ward alderman. She defeated Evans on her third attempt.

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