Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chicago Courts

The city of Chicago has a lot of courthouses. The police department splits the city into 5 areas. Within the 5 areas are numerous districts. We do not have precincts. At each area headquarter is a very large police station. All of the detectives that are assigned to the area have offices at the Area HQ.

Also at each Area HQ are two courtrooms that are entered separately from the police station. One courtroom is for misdemeanors and one for felonies. Most misdemeanor cases never make it further than here. Very few misdemeanor cases go to trial and actually most are dismissed because either the police or complaining witness don't show up to court.

Misdemeanor bench trials are handled at the branch courts at area HQ's. The rare misdemeanor jury trials are held at 555 W. Harrison. The courthouse at Harrison is where all of the domestic violence cases are sent. Since I don't do domestics, I have been to Harrison less than 10 times.

Depending on which district the arrest occurs in dictates which courthouse gets the case. Obviously an arrest in Area 5 will be sent to one of the courtrooms at Area 5. Well, unless it's a domestic, sex crime, or murder.

If the case is a felony and the State proceeds by way of preliminary hearing, this takes place in the area felony courtroom. Even if the case is going to be indicted, the defendant is still bussed to the courthouse, brought before the judge, and told the State is asking for a continuance. About a week later, they are brought back and told their case has been superseded by indictment.

There is also one more felony preliminary hearing courtroom in the main courthouse at 26th & California. I have no idea how or why cases get sent here. But they are always drug cases, that I know.

There is also a special preliminary call for sex crimes and homicides. It also takes place at 26th & California but at noon. The courtroom this call is held in is where felony cases are assigned to their trial courtroom every morning by the presiding judge.

If the case makes it through preliminary hearing (and most do, but for minor drug cases), the defendant is told their case has been transferred to the presiding judge at 26th & California. The next court date (the arraignment) is always 21 days later and as an attorney I normally cannot budge this date. It's set in stone. It causes problems.

It gets a little confusing at this point. Family members and defendants think their next court appearance is in room 101 on the date the preliminary judge gives them. But in reality the defendant never appears before the presiding judge.

The presiding judge calls the case and just says which judge was assigned the case. If the defendant is on bond, he does not have to be there when this happens.

If the case got assigned to one of the 31 felony trial courtrooms at 26th & California, the defendant is on the trial call for that courtroom that same day. If in custody, the sheriff takes them to their assigned courtroom.

The courtroom assignments actually happen 2 days before the presiding judge reads off the case. This is how the jail knows where to take everyone. I either call the clerk's office or look in the computer myself to see where my cases are headed.

I let the family and/or defendant know to which judge the case was assigned. And if I want to SOJ (substitution of judge), I can have the motion prepared.

There are 8 other felony trial courtrooms for city of Chicago cases. But they are in two suburban courthouses. 4 in Skokie and 4 in Bridgeview. The judge assignments are totally random (I think). If the defendant gets assigned to one of these 8 courtrooms, the next court date is a full 7 days later.

If this sounds confusing to you, imagine how it is for a family. And imagine how much of a pain it can be for an attorney. As I wrote earlier, we cannot pick the arraignment date. And we don't know where the case is going to get assigned until 2 days out.

The result is that I spend a lot of time in my car driving around to get to court. I have had days where I had a preliminary at 9, and then a case in Bridgeview (south west) and Skokie (north). It happens. You set a case in Skokie, then get hired for a case that ultimately ends up somewhere else on the same day.

Fortunately, most of the preliminary hearing calls start at 9 and the trial courtrooms start at 10. I have had mornings where I had to appear in 4 different court houses. Driving all across the county, through the city, in traffic is tiring.

It seems like it's these crazy days that one of the trial cases has a short call that day and by 10:45 the prosecutor is blowing up my phone wondering where I am. I absolutely hate feeling rushed. I can't stand it. It's almost as bad as not taking a shower. I just don't like it. I normally get to court very early so I can remain calm. If I am rushed I start freaking out and get stressed.

The reason is that the military taught me to never be late. And if I can help it, I never am. In the Army, we set our clocks 10 minutes fast so we were always early. I still arrive early for most every appointment, even dentist visits. I am just that way. I always will be.

I wake up pretty early in the morning. I like to take my time getting ready. I am a morning person, but need my coffee. And plenty of it. Lots of cream, lots of Splenda.

I have at times wished there was one big massive judicial complex for the entire city. But that wouldn't be as fun. Each courthouse has its own character, design, employees, defendants, and smell. They are all in different neighborhoods as well. Though all of them are considered city of Chicago criminal courts, no two are identical.

Traffic cases are somewhere else entirely. And I don't go there. 



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