Cook County public defender files lawsuit, says supervisor confiscated photo of her in Israeli army

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Thursday, February 15, 2024
Lawsuit says public defender's Israeli army service photo confiscated
A Cook County public defender has filed a lawsuit alleging a supervisor at the Skokie courthouse confiscated a 2002 photo of her in the Israeli army.

SKOKIE, Ill. (WLS) -- A two-decades-old photo is at the center of a lawsuit filed by a Cook County public defender.

Debra Gassman claims her constitutional rights were violated when she said her employer wanted her to stop displaying a photo from when she volunteered in the Israeli army.

The photo from 2002 shows Gassman in the Israeli army, holding her weapon. Her attorney said she has had it hanging in her office for years.

"She had it up for over 20 years and it was never a problem before October 7th," attorney David Fish said.

Oct. 7 was the date of the deadly attack by Hamas on Israel that killed nearly 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Gassman works as a Cook County public defender in the Skokie courthouse.

Her attorney said she initially put the picture in a public area, but later moved it to her office after a complaint.

The public defender's office said in a statement, "We responded to the complaint by requesting the employee who posted the picture of herself holding a firearm remove that picture from the common area. The employee complied and was not disciplined."

However, Gassman said after she moved the picture to her private office, a deputy supervisor took it down and confiscated it.

"The picture wasn't in public view," Fish said. "Her office is in the back of the public defender's office. She doesn't have clients in her office."

Gassman filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of her First Amendment rights to free speech against Cook County and her supervisor. The lawsuit asks for no damages, and it only asks that she be allowed to display the photo again in her office.

"She spent her whole career trying to protect the rights of the Constitution for clients," Fish said. 'She wants to protect her own rights here."

The case is not scheduled for trial yet. Her attorney said Gassman would like to resolve it before it goes before a judge.