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EDITORIAL: A lesson in double standards when a judge drops a gun

In this July 3, 2018, file photo from a surveillance video provided by the Cook County Sheriff's Office, Cook County Circuit Judge Joseph Claps, left, looks down at an object he allegedly dropped in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago. Claps was charged with carrying a concealed weapon in a prohibited area. On Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018, Claps was acquitted after a judge ruled the video did not prove the object that fell from Claps' jacket was a firearm. (Cook County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

Equal protection under the law is pretty cool, right?

Especially if you’re a judge, because judges are more equal than the rest of us.

Or so it goes in Cook County.

In July, Cook County Judge Joseph Claps dropped what sheriff’s deputies described as a gun in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Courts Building, where it was not legal for Claps to carry a gun. Anyone else would have been looking at a certain conviction on gun crime charges.

But in October, a different judge acquitted Claps. Judge Edward Burmila, of the Will County circuit, ruled that prosecutors had failed to prove Claps was toting a real gun, even though the sheriff’s deputies, whom we suspect are pretty familiar with firearms, were sure it was real.

As caught on courthouse video, the incident also appeared to be the real thing.


This burden on prosecutors to prove that a gun is absolutely real apparently applies only when the defendant is a fellow judge.

As reported in the Sun-Times last week, an Injustice Watch review of all Cook County court cases involving gun violations since 2015 turned up 14 cases in which the defendant was convicted though no gun was ever even found. Moreover, appellate judges since then repeatedly have upheld convictions involving gun charges based on the testimony of witnesses or because a video showed an object that appears to be a gun, even when no gun was recovered.

Double standard, anyone?

After the incident, Claps, who has a concealed-carry license, was charged with carrying a concealed weapon in a prohibited area, which carries a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail and a $2,500 fine. But when he showed up in court, his lawyers argued that no one could prove it wasn’t a toy gun.

That was good enough for Judge Burmila, who acquitted Claps on the spot, although the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board is still investigating.

Judges are supposed to uphold the law, and they do. Except, perhaps, when the defendant is one of their own.

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