Chicago – A FOX Chicago News/Better Government Association joint investigation has exposed one of the little-known secrets of the Cook County Court system: not all judges are putting in a full day’s work in the courtroom.
Over the past six months, FOX Chicago’s investigative team randomly checked judges’ offices and courtrooms in the afternoons. We frequently found closed courtrooms, empty parking lots, and judges cutting out early.
“If these are full-time jobs and a lot of other people are working full-time in and around courtrooms and defendants are sitting in the jail, then these courtrooms need to be open,” said BGA Executive Director Andy Shaw.
Cook County judges earn around $170,000/year.
Three years ago, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart– frustrated by having to assign deputies to empty courtrooms– ordered his deputies to keep a log on when judges open and close their courtrooms. From April 2007 to May 2008, the report found a quarter of Cook County’s courtrooms open just three and a half hours a day or less. We obtained a copy of this secret report through the Freedom of Information Act. The average closing time for all courtrooms was 2:25pm.
We decided to do our own checking. Starting at 1:45pm on a recent afternoon, FOX Chicago News went to the Daley Center to check the 144 courtrooms there. All are supposed to be staffed by a full-time judge., but 62 percent were empty.
While many judges are working hard and staying late, we caught some judges relaxing at home. On one afternoon, we found Judge Gloria Chevere sunbathing in her backyard. On another day in October, we watched as she left the courthouse at 11:24am and headed back home. She went out to do some errands, but was back at home again by 2:20pm.
On one day in March, we saw Judge Chevere leaving the courthouse at 1:41pm.
“I think there is a general rule that judges should be in the courthouses, I think it’s nine to four but I’m not sure,” said Judge Chevere. She told us she can schedule her own hours, since she says she is frequently called by police to sign warrants at her home and meet with informants at locations away from her house.
We also witnessed Judge Jim Ryan leaving the courthouse early three times, including one day when he was home by 1:18pm.
At the Bridgeview Courthouse, we saw Judge Cynthia Brim coming and going several times during the day. She said she probably left to get breakfast and lunch.
Chief Judge Timothy Evans can make a judge’s life miserable by assigning them to an unwanted courthouse, but since they are elected officials, there’s little else he can do. Two years ago, he sent out a memo asking judges to stay at the courthouse until 4pm.
“The vast majority of the judges always do what they’re supposed to do. And that’s to take care of the people’s business,” said Evans: “I am interested in making certain that the courtrooms are fully utilized.”
“One of the punishments we ought to impose on this judicial system because of malfeasance is that these individuals get punch cards and in the morning like factory workers they punch in and in the evening they punch out,” said Shaw. “Let’s make sure they give us 8 hour work for 8 hours pay.”