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Preckwinkle forms public defender selection committee

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle called the public defender’s office “critical to our criminal justice system.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle opened up the option of picking a new public defender in March and announced Tuesday the formation of a selection committee to review candidates.

Preckwinkle called the public defender’s office “critical to our criminal justice system.”

“When the last Public Defender’s term came to an end in 2015, I promised the residents of Cook County an open, transparent selection process,” Preckwinkle said in a news release. “I remain committed to that promise and am confident that this process will produce the candidate best equipped to deliver high-quality legal representation to our residents who need it most.”

Though other candidates are invited to apply, Preckwinkle could keep current Public Defender Amy Campanelli in the position.

The committee will review resumes, interview candidates and recommend three people to Preckwinkle for a final decision.

The chosen candidate is expected to be submitted to the Cook County Board of Commissioners for its approval in March.

The committee includes retired Judge Patricia M. Martin; Julie L. Biehl, who serves as a clinical professor of law and director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law; Floyd Stafford and Eddie Bocanegra from Heartland Alliance; and Khadine Bennett, director of advocacy and intergovernmental affairs for the Illinois chapter of the ACLU.

Preckwinkle said her administration “remains committed to providing poor people with the same legal rights the affluent have always been afforded.”

“We have been successful in strengthening the office, setting new, progressive priorities from day one,” Preckwinkle said. “I thank Public Defender Amy Campanelli for her partnership and look forward to building on the successes that have been realized so far.”

Preckwinkle nominated Campanelli for a six-year term in 2015, saying she’s “proven herself to be a relentless advocate for her clients.”

Campanelli, who was sworn in as the 10th Cook County public defender on April 1, 2015, was not immediately available for comment.

People interested in the role must submit their resume and cover letters by Jan. 22, 2021, by email to pdsearch@cookcountyil.gov or by mail to the Justice Advisory Council, Attn: Public Defender Search, 69 W. Washington St., Suite 1110, Chicago, IL 60602.