10 Things You Don’t Know About the Office of the Chief Judge

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans holds a powerful political office with many responsibilities. His office, The Office of the Chief Judge (“OCJ”) is responsible for overseeing many aspects of the Circuit Court of Cook County, the largest unified court system in the United States. In addition to establishing court policies and procedures, the OCJ is responsible for overseeing judicial behavior. Despite the office’s tremendous power—including the power to lead criminal justice reform efforts during this time of tremendous opportunity and public support—the office remains largely a mystery to those outside the legal community.

  1. The OCJ budget is HUGE. Over $240 million per year, in fact.
  2. Jesse Reyes, the disgraced former head of adult probation in Cook County, is currently the second highest paid staff person in the OCJ. His “Court Services Project Administrator” position comes with no discernable job duties and a $144, 700.00 salary (in 2015).
  3. Accountability of judges for poor performance is non-existent. The OCJ’s chief mechanism for sanctioning judges is moving them to undesirable courtroom assignments, but judges are moved to these roles (such as traffic court) only for political reasons or media pressure and never to mitigate the harm they may be perpetrating against average people in their courts. When an African American law professor was threatened with arrest for simply taking notes during an open proceeding at 26th and California, the only sanction the judge received was from the Chicago Tribune. It took the high-profile assault of a Sheriff’s Deputy to force the removal of Judge Brim in 2014 after years of egregious and harmful behavior.
  4. The Cook County OCJ has failed to lead court reform initiatives the way it could. In New York City, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman [PDF] has been a driving force of dramatic bail reforms both in his jurisdiction and across the state of New York. Here in Illinois, retired McLean County Chief Judge Elizabeth Robb dramatically improved courtroom information sharing through technological innovations. There is immense bipartisan momentum for criminal justice reform at the national, state, and county levels, yet the OCJ in Illinois’s largest county is a critical puzzle piece that remains missing.
  5. As Chief Judge, Tim Evans instituted a disastrous and unnecessary cellphone ban that dramatically restricted access to the felony courthouse for lower income people.
  6. The OCJ is responsible for allocating millions of dollars in county contracts. Cook County insider contract awards result in underperforming court services and third party vendors who are never held to account. In response to a larger troubling incident regarding civil rights violations within the Adult Probation Department, Chief Judge Timothy Evans hired a politically connected law firm to investigate. The firm was granted no subpoena power, is managed by a partner with deep ties to Evans, and has been accused of using the investigation to uncover the Tribune’s sources for the initial story that lead to public scrutiny.
  7. The OCJ is notoriously difficult to work with. The office often delays hiring, and refuses grants that would fund needed services or advance reform. For example, Jesse Reyes was appointed in 2005 “to become acting chief probation officer, but [Evans] never formally made the title permanent, a fact that sources said left many questioning the department’s leadership” all the way through Reyes’s departure in 2014.
  8. The OCJ uses ghost payroll and secret job postings to avoid public accountability. The OCJ employs more than 20 “legal system analysts,” yet no one has ever met one of them. In addition, there is no central website posting for jobs in the OCJ, unlike every other county department such as the Forest Preserve, the Assessor, Health and Hospitals, the Office of the President, and the Sheriff’s Office, to name a few.
  9. Only people who work for the Chief Judge get to vote for the Chief Judge. The Chief Judge is elected by a vote of all elected judges: about 250 of the total 400 judges.
  10. There is an election coming up in September, 2016! Current Chief Judge Timothy Evans is being challenged by former Alderman and current Chancery Division Judge Thomas Allen.

    justice-050815 11.JPG
    Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court Timothy Evans, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez speaking to the City Club of Chicago at Maggiano’s, on Cook County Justice. Thursday, May 7, 2015 (Brian Jackson/For the Sun Times)
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