Chief Cook Co. judge defends judicial system, electronic monitoring in rare public appearance

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A top Cook County judge is defending the judicial system against criticism that judges are not being tough enough on violent offenders and letting too many people out on electronic monitoring.

While speaking to the Union League Club Thursday in a rare public appearance, Chief Judge Tim Evans faced tough questions about why violent offenders are released from jail on electronic monitoring while awaiting trial. He also conceded it may be time to revisit the criteria for pre-trial release.

"The judge is the one who sits as the unbiased arbiter," Evans said. "And if that judge doesn't see the evidence there, no matter what the charge is, he or she might decide to release the person pre-trial."

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And Evans said since October, no one charged with murder or attempted murder has been released on electronic monitoring.

Evans explained that judges use a Public Safety Assessment tool that weighs nine criteria in determining whether or not the suspect is a threat to the public if released.

Without commenting directly on the 16-year-old charged with killing 8-year-old Melissa Ortega, Evans said with juveniles, the goal is not to lock them up if possible.

"The courts purpose in dealing with juveniles is to try to rehabilitate juveniles," Evans said.

But he added that Harvard University is now reviewing the safety assessment tool to see if it should be changed. He also said maybe it's time to rethink holding parents accountable for their kids' criminal behavior.

But to critics who think the courts have gone too soft on criminals, Evans cited a study that showed over the last four years, the court reviewed 110,000 cases that came through the system. Of those, 81% of the defendants did not commit another crime.

Evans, who has been the frequent target of criticism by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Superintendent David Brown over gun offenders released on electronic monitoring, said it's time to end the finger pointing and work together.

"I'm not pointing at anybody," Evans said. "I'm not making anybody a scapegoat."

Evans also announced a new policy to fast track criminal cases, and he is calling for more money to be spent on witness protection programs to help solve crimes.
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