Devine warns budget cuts could force plea bargains
January 26, 2007 (WLS) -- Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine says proposed cuts in the county budget will drastically impact his office's ability to prosecute criminal cases. Devine made his case against a plan for 17 percent cuts Friday at a county finance committee. He wasn't alone in sounding the warning the cuts could have on the citizens of Cook County.
Thursday, Devine told ABC7, if the recommended budget is passed, his prosecutors will have to plea bargain more cases because they won't be able staff as many criminal courtrooms. Friday, he made another dire prediction, that without as much money, his office will lose some of its most talented people.
"The cuts that are outlined in the current budget proposal simply devastate these good people," said Dick Devine, Cook County state's attorney.
The presentation was followed by sustained applause from dozens of state's attorney's staff members who crowded the hearing.
Devine said the recommended 17 percent cut in his budget would mean the layoffs of 138 employees, including 45 prosecutors, and that salary freezes and/or pay reductions would cause the resignations of some of his most experienced assistants.
"The cuts that we're talking about today, plus higher case loads, plus student loans, is a ready formula for people leaving the office," Devine said.
Devine and Sheriff Tom Dart have resisted county board president Todd Stroger's 17 percent mandate, arguing that budget cuts so deep would jeopardize public safety.
They are joined in that plea by unionized probation officers, who monitor convicted criminals, and will lose 44 employees, or about 10 percent of their front line staff.
"These are the officers that monitor some of the most dangerous offenders in Cook County, and there's not one cut from any management or administrative position in this budget" said Jim Dunaway, probation officer.
At the finance committee, Commissioner Forrest Claypool appealed to his colleagues to reject the Stroger mandate as it affects public safety and health.
"I think the challenge for this board is to take this very ill conceived, working in cooperation with people like yourselves and work through it so that we can restore front line service workers and public health and public safety, and fire the fat cats at the top of the food chain who are being protected in this budget," said Forrest Claypool, (D) county commissioner.
Commissioner Mike Quigley praised Stroger's willingness to reduce expenditures to fix the current crisis. He said, in the long-term, modernizing county government is the best way to eliminate unneeded, overpaid public employees.
"Even if you get rid of all the top heavy middle management and upper management, you'd still have an inefficient system," said Mike Quigley, (D) county commissioner.
At this point, the commissioners have no time to consider long-term solutions to the half billion dollar deficit.
The budget must be completed by February 28th. That's just under five weeks away.
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