Latest move in bail reform: Chief judge replaces all bond court judges

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Chief Cook County Judge Timothy Evans. | Sun-Times files

Chief Cook County Judge Timothy Evans on Friday announced he is replacing the half-dozen judges who preside over bond hearings at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse–a sweeping change and the latest move to reform the cash bond system that critics say leaves poor and minority defendants locked up on low-level charges.

The move by Evans comes two months after he issued an order, which takes effect Monday, that bond court judges are required to set bail in amounts defendants can afford to pay.

“As we continue our efforts to enhance the pretrial process in Cook County, this new division will play an important role in upholding the court’s focus on justice and fairness,” Evans said in a statement emailed to reporters Friday.

“All defendants are assumed innocent until proven guilty, and nobody should be held in jail simply because they cannot afford bail.”

Judge John Kirby will take on the newly created job of presiding judge of Central Bond Court, which has been renamed Pre-Trial Division— which had been called Central Bond Court— and the supervising judges will be, Sophia Atcherson, Michael R. Clancy, John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr., Mary C. Marubio, Stephanie K. Miller and David R. Navarro.

Former bond court judges Adam Bourgeois Jr., James R. Brown, Donald Panarese Jr. and Laura M. Sullivan have chosen to continue to serve in the First Municipal District.

Judges Peggy Chiampas and Maria Kuriakos Ciesil take seats in the Criminal Division.

Kirby, who served as a bond court judge in the early 2000s, has won awards from advocacy groups for his roles in creating a diversion program for non-violent drug offenders and a similar program for nonviolent offenders who have served in the U.S. military.

“I look forward to overseeing a bond system that continues to be fair and equitable for the people of Cook County,” Kirby said. “One of my goals is to help the public better understand the bond system and how judges must balance the desire for one’s freedom before trial and the need to protect the public.”

The changes to the bond court roster, and even a shift in the way bond amounts are assigned, will not stop a lawsuit challenging bond practices in the county, said Matthew Piers, an attorney representing two defendants who said they were stuck in jail because they couldn’t come up with a few hundred dollars to post bail.

Evans’ public statements, and even the addition of a pretrial screening process, did not seem to move the sitting bond court judges to grant lower bail amounts or let defendants out more frequently on their own recognizance or electronic monitoring, Piers said.

“I have no doubt that Judge Evans is attempting to seriously address the problem of cash conditions of bond,” Piers said Friday. “Part of the problem, a major part, certainly involved the incumbent judges. I think this is a prudent thing to do.”

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