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Cook County to close suburban courthouses on weekends

The Markham courthouse 167th Kedzie is one suburban Cook County courthouses thwould be closed weekends under new cost-saving plan by

The Markham courthouse at 167th and Kedzie is one of the suburban Cook County courthouses that would be closed on the weekends under a new cost-saving plan by the county. | Sun-Times Media file photo

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Updated: January 30, 2012 10:33AM

Get into trouble on the weekends in Cook County and no matter where you’re arrested — from Schaumburg to the city’s West Side to Orland Park — soon your only option will be to appear before a judge at Chicago’s 26th and California courthouse.

That’s according to a cost-saving plan that would mean closing the five suburban courthouses on the weekends in the coming months and creating a single weekend bond court at the southwest side criminal courthouse, according to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office.

“Cook County has been holding weekend bond court at all five suburban courthouses despite a low volume of cases at some locations,” according to a statement from Preckwinkle’s office. “Consolidating weekend bond court at the criminal courthouse will make the criminal justice system more efficient.”

Five suburban courthouses now hold bond hearings on Saturdays: Skokie, Rolling Meadows, Maywood, Bridgeview and Markham. Only Markham holds hearings on Sundays, when defendants who would otherwise appear before a judge in the other four courthouses are transferred to 26th and California.

Preckwinkle spokeswoman Liane Jackson said an average total of 87 defendants appear before judges at the five suburban courthouses on Saturdays, while an average of 37 appear before a judge on Sundays in Markham.

Bond court at 26th and California now processes only defendants arrested in Chicago, said Cook County sheriff’s spokesman Frank Bilecki. A judge can see anywhere from 150 to — when it’s busy — 350 defendants on a single weekend day in bond court, he said.

Typically those arrested and charged with a crime will appear before a judge within 24 hours.

During a bond hearing, a judge reviews the charge leveled against a defendant, decides whether the defendant will be released on bond until the trial and then sets the amount of the bond.

Suburban police who would normally ship detainees to a nearby courthouse for a weekend bond hearing will now have to transport them to 26th and California, Bilecki said. Once all suburban bond courts close on the weekends for good, the courthouses with lockups — including Maywood and Markham — would no longer house detainees on Saturdays and Sundays.

South Suburban Association Chiefs of Police President William Joyce called the change a “nightmare.”

Joyce, who is also the South Chicago Heights police chief, said the move will increase overtime costs and tie up police resources with increased travel time into Chicago.

“I think they threw it at us and said ‘Work with it,’ and now we have to work with it,” Joyce said.

In a letter sent earlier this month to judges, suburban police chiefs and other law enforcement, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans pointed the finger at the county board and Preckwinkle.

“Due to reductions in the FY 2012 budget adopted by the Cook County Board of Commissioners on November 18, 2011, as recommended by President Preckwinkle, the suburban courthouses serving Municipal Districts 2 through 6 will no longer be open on weekends and court holidays.”

He goes on to write: “Therefore, I have decided to consolidate weekend and holiday bond court proceedings currently convened in those courthouses to the Central Bond Court in Chicago, which is regularly in session 365 days a year.”

The closings don’t just affect criminals, Evans wrote.

“The closing of the courthouses on weekends also means marriages and civil unions will no longer be available in Districts 2 through 6 on the weekends.”

Although he did not have details, state’s attorney spokesman Andy Conklin said, “We are prepared to deal with the increased court call at 26th and California. It’s a cost saving measure that we support.”

Weekend court calls at the 26th and California are presently lengthy, lasting a few hours on some Saturdays and Sundays.

Preckwinkle believes $1.9 million alone could be saved next year by consolidating bond court. That’s especially true, her staff said, when you consider each suburban courthouse needs at least a judge, assistant state’s attorney, public defender, three clerks and seven sheriff’s deputies to hold weekend hearings, not to mention the cost of utilities.

Preckwinkle’s staff maintained they were able to work out the deal through an agreement reached with the county judiciary to the state’s attorney and sheriff’s office.

“Holding bond court on the weekend is expensive and diverts resources that could be dedicated to other functions within the County. The consolidation will allow public safety resources to be more efficiently utilized,” Preckwinkle’s statement said.

The process will begin Jan. 7th at the Bridgeview courthouse, and the rest of the courthouses will begin closing their weekend bond courts over the next two to three months, Jackson said.

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