Critiques of the Judiciary
Most people will agree that the broken wheels of justice - as they spin in the Cook County Circuit Court system after the massive Greylord investigation and trials - require fixing. There now exists a nighttime Narcotics Court that was intended to be a temporary stop-gap measure when it became operational in 1989, but has since evolved into a "justice mill," where over-burdened judges, hemmed in by regressive Class X and Super Class X sentencing guidelines, attempt to tackle a case load that is onerous and chaotic. Meanwhile, a number of suburban courtrooms hearing criminal cases frequently close early, some of them well before midday.
Numerous and unexplained continuances delay the disposition of cases and clog the courts for months and years. Substandard courtroom facilities at the historic 26th and California facilities and at Chicago's Traffic Court on LaSalle Street receive scant attention from the Cook County Board in their zeal to appropriate vast sums of money to construct new correctional divisions in order to provide additional jail space for the ever increasing and overcrowded inmate population. And, despite halfhearted acknowledgments that some form of "merit selection" of judges would be advisable, a consensus cannot be achieved on how this is to be done. In such a volatile, contagious atmosphere, corruption and inefficiency within the judicial system lurk below the surface and will continue to be the unfortunate by-product of the failure to strike at the root of a serious and corrosive problem. In other words, as much as things change, they still remain the same in the Cook County circuit courts.
In the wake of the 1980s federally initiated Operation Greylord scandal that rocked the community and exposed a judicial system rife with corruption, incompetence, intrigue, and influence peddling, a blue-ribbon panel was assembled to examine the ills of the Cook County courts and issue recommendations that would contribute toward noteworthy, long overdue reform. The Special Commission on the Administration of Justice in Cook County (better known as the Solovy Commission) was established in August 1984 by the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Harry G. Comerford. The Commission received its name from its chairman, attorney Jerold S. Solovy, from the high profile law firm of Jenner & Block. Mr. Solovy also chairs the Illinois Supreme Court Commission, established on January 6, 1992 to perform essentially the same tasks as the first Solovy Commission with respect to the Supreme Court.
Solovy and his colleagues took a comprehensive approach in evaluating court administration, judicial ethics, and the day-to-day mechanisms of Traffic Court, the Law Division, Adult Probation, and Felony Courts. The task force published fifteen separate reports containing 165 recommendations spanning a four-year period. No more Greylords and much-needed change is the hoped for intention.
The conclusions drawn, however noble and well meaning, seemed to have fallen well short of the mark in the learned opinion of some legal scholars, specifically James M. Bailey, a retired but well-respected veteran who served as a Circuit Court Judge within the Criminal Division.
Judge Bailey commented somewhat critically on the Commission's findings by stating: "They had some good people on the Commission, but like anything else, whoever headed the Commission headed in the direction they wanted. They came up with some good suggestions for change, but the big thing is, you can't have change unless you have change at the top."
The kind of change that Mr. Bailey alludes to is the periodic rotation of judges, beginning at the top, where Harry G. Comerford has continuously served as Chief Judge since November 1978. [IPSN Editor's Note: Harry Comerford has retired since this article was first published.] "In all the years I was on the bench, I had only two Chief Judges: John S. Boyle, who took over in 1964, and Harry Comerford," Bailey said. "The Circuit Court of Cook County is four times larger now than it was under Boyle's leadership. Whoever is Chief Judge makes all the assignments. He calls the shots, and he is the one who moves them around." Comerford presently supervises 383 judges: 211 elected Circuit Judges, and 172 appointed Associate Judges.
The Solovy Commission urged Comerford in the mildest of terms to consider that ". . .a regular system of rotation of judges be implemented throughout the Law Division and throughout the Circuit Court." So far, such has not been adopted. Presently, only the divisions not on individual calendar rotate. Judges are transferred only when a need arises.
"Personally, Harry Comerford is one of the nicest guys you can ever hope to meet," Bailey adds. "But Harry's like everybody else. He's going to protect his back. The only way you protect your back is to go ahead and make the assignments on the basis of politics, or on the basis of who you know." Judge Comerford is 73-years-old. He was elected to the Municipal Court of Chicago in 1960 after 13 years in private practice, and he was a Presiding Judge in the County Division from 1967-1978 before being elected Chief Judge that same year. Judge Comerford's political allegiance goes to House Speaker Michael Madigan, who appears to want to maintain the political status quo in the Cook County courts. Over the years, Speaker Madigan has effectively spiked attempts on the part of various advocacy groups like the Chicago Council of Lawyers to push for merit selection of judges in Illinois.
The office of Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County is a patronage mill - no different than the Cook County Board, the County Clerk's office, or the ill-fated Sheriff's office under James O'Grady and his successor, Michael Sheahan. "This position probably has more power than the Appellate Court," Bailey emphasizes. "It might even have more power than the Supreme Court. Just look at the enormity of the budget and see just how many people the Circuit Court of Cook County hires. There are so many jobs the Chief Judge is in control of: secretaries, probation officers, public defenders - it's amazing. You're talking about a lot of jobs."
The Solovy Commission (an entity of the good Judge Comerford's own making) said nothing about term limitations for the Chief Judge - an essential reform Bailey believes must be adopted in order to achieve the objective of a scandal-free judiciary. "If we had term limitations for the Chief Judge and the Presiding Judge, there's going to be movement every three or four years because the top guy is going," Bailey said. "But, if the top guy isn't leaving, there is no rotation. Judges at the top like their assignments and don't want to give them up. They give them up only when they retire or get into trouble - one or the other."
Presiding Judges, like Harold W. Sullivan in the 2nd Municipal District (Skokie), repose in comfortable assignments for 30 or more years. In response to a Solovy Commission recommendation calling for term limitations of three to six years for Presiding Judges, Judge Comerford decided that it is ". . .much more important to give stability to the management team."
Very often the only way for a judge to obtain a coveted assignment in another division is to approach a political "fixer" - a "connection guy" from the First Ward, like former Alderman Fred Roti and his eminence grise henchman, the now deceased Pat Marcy, who were in a position to dispense "favors" - favors that intrinsically and inevitably require some expected form of payback down the road. In the case of Messrs. Marcy and Roti, a secret FBI recording captured one Circuit Court judge soliciting their help in securing a transfer from his current assignment. In return, the judge promised to help support Marcy's slate of judicial candidates aspiring for Associate Judge positions. Edward M. Genson, attorney for Fred Roti during the Operation Gambat investigations, commented as to the common, recurring practice: "Every judge wants to get an assignment to a different division, every judge wants to try to get on a political committee, and every judge tries to help the people who sponsored him when they called them for sponsorship of their judgeships."
Scandal is more likely to occur as a result of a judge remaining too long in one assignment. Traffic Court for instance, where the now infamous "Hustlers Club" of crooked lawyers solicited bribe money from their clients in order to "take care" of a cooperative judge, fosters an attitude of complacency and corruption. "Before and after Greylord, many of the judges accused of bribe-taking got stuck in Traffic Court, and we all know what happened to them," Bailey adds.
Nowadays, James Bailey practices civil law and is a partner in the law firm of Schippers, Gilbert, Bailey. From the perspective of 20-years front-line experience as a Cook County Criminal Court judge, Bailey understands the nuances of the system - and is eminently qualified to assess its shortfalls and strengths. During his years on the bench, he was viewed as a bear for efficiency who demanded no less from the lawyers who argued their cases before him in Room 504 of the old Criminal Court Building at 26th and Cal.
In any given year, Bailey routinely disposed of 1,000 felony cases, setting a standard of performance few of his black-robed colleagues were able to emulate. "Come on! Come on! Let's go!" he would admonish dawdling, foot dragging attorneys, maneuvering for their erstwhile clients. Bailey presided over some of the most notorious criminal cases of note. Henry Brisbon, the "I-57 killer" from the early 1970s, and Lester Harrison, accused of murdering four women in Grant Park, were two of the more brutally sensational cases he heard over on 26th Street. Bailey was no bleeding heart. Defense attorneys knew that he mistrusted theories of rehabilitation for hard core felons, and that he would not hesitate to impose the death penalty when deemed appropriate. In all, 16 defendants were sentenced to death during Bailey's tenure.
By the same token, Bailey scorns the Class X sentencing (legislatively imposed) guidelines for petty drug offenders that have come down the road in the 1980s. It is his opinion that these kind of laws clog the over-crowded prisons of America in the name of political expediency. Unfortunately, it has produced dangerous repercussions. "All these mandatory sentences, while not entrapment exactly, have the same effect as going out and creating crime," he suggests. "What happens is that our police departments are out looking for Class X drug peddlers, and what they bring in is a nickel and dime 'Mickey the Mope,' who has been charged as a Class X offender. The prosecutor doesn't care, but the police department can say, 'Hey, we busted a Class X guy.' There was just no showing me that these numerous minor offenders could equate into big-time peddlers. So you end up loading the jails with these kind of individuals, and I wonder if the end result is we end up creating crime."
Judge Bailey was well into his second decade on the bench when the whisperings of Greylord erupted into a front-page major media scandal that compromised the fragile integrity of all of Cook County's judiciary. The renowned federal investigation began when Terry Hake, a former Cook County attorney who worked for Judge Bailey, approached the FBI and agreed to wear a hidden microphone and record the conversations detailing the ways and means of payoffs between lawyers and judges. The rest is history, and a woeful, misbegotten history it was.
An amazing array of 92 individuals, including many well known defense attorneys, court bailiffs, clerks, and 13 esteemed veterans of the bench were indicted in Greylord, a scandal with far-reaching repercussions that stemmed from an "old boy network," the result of too much familiarity among the courtroom crowd. "It started out by someone doing a favor, and then some more favors," Bailey recalls. "When does a favor become a bribe? Eventually, the guy doing the favor says, 'I'm not doing this for the fun of it. I think I should be compensated for it'."
No-one understood how this system functioned better than former Associate Judge Frank Salerno, one of 19 Cook County judges convicted in the wake of the Greylord and Operation Gambat investigations. He was both bribe giver and bribe taker. As a young state's attorney in his formative years, Salerno accepted $50 bribes from misdemeanor defendants who "understood" that they would not be vigorously prosecuted by him in court. As a defense attorney working Chicago's Traffic Court, Salerno recruited bailiffs to serve as bagmen, and would pay court clerks $2 for each case that was called promptly.
"The guys who got convicted in Greylord seemed to have one common interest," Bailey recalls. "They all liked to drink. If you're going to a bar every night and some guys start buying you drinks and they stuff money in your pockets, let's face it, after a while you're going to be looking for it. It becomes a part of your life. Most of them weren't taking big money, but they were accepting hundreds, and sooner or later it begins to add up."
Traffic Court, and the high-volume misdemeanor courtrooms attached to six Chicago Police Department Area Headquarters spawned Greylord. They were seedbeds of corruption for many years, and the average street cop knew this to be true. Suburban Cook County was fertile ground also.
In the palmy days of the mid-1970s, when this mountain of corruption was tolerated and ignored, and there was still a Women's Court located at 11th and State, it was occasionally the practice for a judge to curry the sexual favors of the pathetic junky prostitutes herded into the "bullpen" following a long night's work on the streets. A veteran police officer, who asked not to be identified, recalls standing on the ground floor waiting for an elevator to convey him to the upper floors of Police Headquarters. When the doors slid open, a Women's Court judge well known to the police officers and personnel assigned to the Chicago Police Department First District was leaning against the back wall surrounded by giggling two-dollar hookers. One of them was performing a trick of her trade (so-to-speak) on the judge, who was neither surprised nor embarrassed when the doors swung open and he found himself standing before law enforcement personnel in delicto.
"In those days the judges, the lawyers, and the people we arrested were all joined at the hip," the officer reminisced. "It was a brotherhood of corruption where you take care of me, I'll take care of you. It was the system. It was what you learned before you even knew it was wrong - from the moment you came on the job." How does any young officer know such practices are wrong when everyone else is doing the same thing, and you as a police officer, or employee of the courts are told it is okay? It was a moral conundrum each person had to weigh in his own mind once experience of the "system" was garnered.
Convicted Greylord Judge Raymond Sodini presided over Gambling Court at 11th and State - a carnival-like atmosphere where attorneys had to shout at the judge and each other in order to be heard over the din of a passing CTA elevated train. Hot-dogs and sausages were grilled in the window sills while Misdemeanor Court was in session. In the outer corridors, court personnel bickered over the split of bribe money flowing into Judge Sodini's court room. The scene was reminiscent of Ben Hecht's lively tongue-in-cheek spoof of Chicago jurisprudence in the bad old days of the 1920's The Front Page.
The campy exaggerations of The Front Page were not so far off the mark when one considers the weird environment of Chicago's confused and chaotic misdemeanor courts.
The dangerous perception that nobody gave a damn about the outcome of a misdemeanor bench trial - certainly not the media, who rarely covered such proceedings because they considered these types of cases not "newsworthy" - undoubtedly convinced Sodini and other judges they would never be caught and were invulnerable. And if not, what was there to lose? With periodic cost of living adjustments, an average Circuit Court judge still makes less money than the attorneys in private practice who appear before them every day. The branch courts become festering holes of graft and corruption.
"The judges assigned to these courtrooms felt isolated and out in limbo; problems of burnout quickly set in," reports Barbara M. Schleck, former Executive Director of Cook County Court Watchers, a civilian watchdog group that monitors the local court system and publishes a Judicial Ratings Summary. "They felt buried and often believed the task of handling low status cases was unimportant in the larger scheme of things. The members of the community, of course, saw it in an entirely different light."
The unchecked corruption soon spread to the municipal courtrooms and out into the suburbs. "The other sad thing about the whole affair," Bailey sighs, "is if a judge took $100 for a D.U.I. case, let's say, he would hit the other guy hard who should have received a break, so that the judge's record doesn't look like he's discharging everybody." It was a sad commentary and a permanent black eye for justice.
Operation Greylord produced evidence suggesting that high-profile murder cases could be fixed in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Hard evidence to support such a volatile allegation was finally drawn from Operation Gambat, a federal investigation into court-related corruption that followed several years later. Gambat began in March 1986 when attorney Robert J. Cooley, a streetwise and well-honed former Chicago Police officer, criminal attorney, and a First Ward insider under Alderman Fred Roti's thumb, told the FBI that he had been paid to "fix" murder and assault cases. The fast-talking Cooley also implicated the prestigious Chancery Division in the crooked doings.
Alderman Roti and "Outfit" front man Pat Marcy, secretary of the powerful 1st Ward Democratic Organization, together were charged with accepting and pawing bribes to influence the outcomes of a 1989 case, Eldridge v. Carr, filed in Chancery. (Eldridge v. Carr was a fabricated case - an FBI "sting," that captured on tape the discussions between Cooley, Roti, and Marcy at Counselor's Row Restaurant, located in the same building that housed 1st Ward Democratic Headquarters). The Chancery Division is where important and often complex civil cases are heard. Chancery is a highly coveted assignment for many of the incumbent judges marking time out at 26th and Cal. and the outlying courthouses. It has also proven not to be immune to corruption, as the 1991 conviction of former Presiding Judge David J. Shields on bribery charges proved.
Among other things, Gambat revealed that Cooley agreed to pass $10,000 to Judge Frank J. Wilson in order to secure an acquittal for Harry Aleman, an accomplished Outfit assassin accused of murdering truck dispatcher and Teamster Union steward William Logan in 1977. The Aleman trial was originally scheduled to be heard by Judge Bailey, but Harry Aleman's attorney, Thomas Maloney, filed a petition to substitute judges. He did not want Bailey, a much-feared "law and order" judge to preside over the trial. Curiously, attorney Maloney also named Frank Wilson as another jurist he did not wish to plead Aleman's case before in trial proceedings - at the very moment Cooley was attempting to suborn Wilson!
Robert Cooley and Judge Wilson had become chummy over the years. They gambled and drank together and shared secrets in an atmosphere of collegiality. Despite assurances to the contrary, Roti and Marcy were apprehensive and unsure of Cooley's abilities to "deliver the goods" on the Aleman case before Wilson. First Ward Committeeman John D'Arco, Sr. warned Cooley of the likely consequences of a screw up: "This is a very serious matter, some very important people are concerned about this individual [Aleman]. Don't say you can do it unless you can do it. We have to know for sure." The important people were the top "wise guys" - the Mob.
The deal to fix the murder case was struck in the men's room at Greco's Restaurant. Wilson agreed to "handle" the case for $10,000 provided that neither Maloney nor Cooley represented Aleman, a most feared Outfit enforcer. He believed it would create a climate of suspicion. Pat Marcy insisted that Maloney remain on the case, but Cooley reported back that Wilson was adamant. Maloney was removed, and Wilson received a $2,500 "down payment."
"The question has always been, how did the case get back to Frank Wilson?" Bailey wonders. "At the time, I never thought Frank Wilson was on the take. I knew Frank very well. How in God's name this went down is beyond me."
It appears that, after Bailey and Wilson were named in the substitution of judges, the case was reassigned to Judge Fred Suria. The defense filed another motion to transfer the case, but his was turned down. Suria later recused himself from the case on his own motion and eventually it made its way back to Wilson. Big-time "wise guy" attorney Frank Whalen represented Harry Aleman, who was disappointed to learn that Maloney would have to be removed. "Well, if that's the way it has to be," Aleman said. Judge Wilson approved the selection of Whalen, but informed Bob Cooley that he would deal directly with Cooley during trial discussion.
Harry "The Hook" Aleman was acquitted of the Logan "hit" despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The judge alibied to the media by accusing state prosecutors of failing to establish Aleman's guilt beyond reasonable doubt, even though the prosecution produced two eyewitnesses. The newspapers were stunned and outraged. Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko believed the fix was in from the very beginning, and he said so in his column. The pressure appeared to be getting to Wilson.
Judge Wilson did his job: he delivered the "goods." But he soon demanded more than the $10,000 he was to receive from the First Ward "connection guys." "I am a judge," Wilson complained to Cooley, after learning that a key prosecution witness also received $10,000. "I am a full judge. I am going to lose my job on this thing, and that's all I'm getting? It's not fair. I deserve a lot more than this." Wilson was almost in tears the night he received his remaining share of the bribe money at a South Side restaurant. "You did this to me," Wilson whispered to Cooley.
Judge Wilson retired from the bench in 1980 and moved to Sun City, Arizona, where he was to be interviewed by FBI agents who demanded more information about his First Ward criminal-political tie-ups. With the Feds closing in on his doorstep, the corrupt judge blew his brains out in the backyard of his hacienda on Feb. 5, 1990 - a compelling admission of guilt on his part.
Attorney Thomas J. Maloney, once described by Harry Aleman as "part of us," was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to fill a vacancy in the Circuit Court in 1977, with the help and sponsorship of former Alderman Ed Vrdolyak. One year later, Maloney was slated by the Democratic Party and elected to a full term as Circuit Court Judge.
During the next 13 years, the Honorable Mr. Maloney "fixed" three murder trials (possibly six, according to recent Justice Department allegations). Payoffs were allegedly funneled to him by two convicted Gambat attorneys, William A. Swano and Robert McGee, who shared office space with none other than the good government advocate and radio talk show host, Vrdolyak. This is the same "Eddie" who is strongly tied to Cicero Town President, Betty Loren Maltese, whose late husband, Frankie, labored in the vineyards of Mob boss Rocco Infelise's street crew for many years.
Thomas Maloney retired in 1990 and has spent the last three years fighting to stay out of prison. He was convicted in April, 1993 for accepting $10,000 to fix the double murder trial of two former El Rukn gang leaders, receiving a cut of a $100,000 bribe to acquit three New York gang members in 1981, and $4,000 for a favorable verdict in a voluntary manslaughter case dating back to 1982. Mr. Maloney will be sentenced by Judge Harry Leinenweber in July.
What safeguards, if any, presently exist to prevent individuals of the caliber of a Tom Maloney or Frank Wilson from ascending the bench? None, actually. The Judicial Inquiry Board, which is responsible for ferreting out corruption and monitoring the conduct of judges has seen its resources depleted as a result of budgetary cutbacks in recent years. James Bailey doesn't believe the board has been or is very effective at all, and he would like to see some other internal mechanism put into place. "The Inquiry Board is not very active, and they really don't go into something and find out what really is going on as well as they should. Former Chief Judge, John Boyle, had a great system of finding out what was happening. He knew everybody. If a judge was doing something wrong, he would bury them." Boyle was hard and tough - a knowledgeable political insider from the old school.
The Solovy Commission favors the appointment of an Inspector General and merit (or appointed) selection of all judges. Bailey endorses these recommendations with reservations. "The Circuit Court of Cook County should go ahead and institute some type of 'G-2' of their own," he said. "Let's find out what is going on in Traffic Court and out in all the districts. Do we have any problems? Is someone getting too chummy? Are there favors being done out there?"
As to the hotly debated issue of merit selection, which the reformers have been pushing for years, Bailey has his doubts. "I don't think that the merit selection of judges will do anything for the simple reason that most of the judges would score very high on a merit board exam," he said. "Most of them would have been judges anyway through their strong political connections. One person ultimately has to do the appointing. Let's face it. They say that the federal judges are appointed by merit. That's simply not true. They're appointed because they happen to know one person over the other."
Thus far, thirty-five states in the U.S. have enacted some form of merit selection in the various judicial circuits and sub-circuits. Merit selection will minimize some of the risks, but it will never prevent a dishonest judge from being appointed to office. It is a pie-in-the-sky scenario to believe otherwise.
When Greylord first broke, James Bailey recalls a meeting in Harry Comerford's office, where the chief judge expressed the hope that the problem would be confined to the so called "lesser" courts. "I left the meeting at that time because I knew that it was going to go a lot further. I said to Judge Comerford, 'No, unfortunately this is only the beginning.' I had talked to some of the defense lawyers and they all told me the same thing," Bailey remembers. "The corruption was a lot more widespread than what was let out."
Are there any more judicial scandals coming down the road? The judges who weathered the storm of Greylord and Gambat are much more aware of their vulnerability. It is unlikely that they would risk their professional careers and reputations pocketing $50 bribes as in the days of old.
The Circuit Court of Cook County's Criminal Division randomly assigns cases, and the "let's make a deal" army of attorneys comprising the "Hustlers Club" at Traffic Court have been weeded out and removed for the most part. However, institutionalized graft as it has been refined in Cook County government over the years will always find new and ingenious methods of eroding the system - especially when the judiciary is unable to divorce itself from politics.
Without a workable system of judicial rotation and the creation of the type of Inspector Generalship that Judge James Bailey, the Chicago Crime Commission, and the Solovy Commission envision for Chicago, it is probable that such scandals will occur again. "Time will only tell," Bailey cautions. "But it would not surprise me." It should really not surprise anyone - Cook County being what it is.Richard Lindberg
Taken from the archives of the Illinois Police and Sheriff's News (http:www.ipsn.org/greylord.html). Note: eminence grise (Fr., gray eminence) refers to a person who wields unofficial power, especially through another, and often surreptitiously. For additional reading, see:
- B. Lockwood and H. H. Mendenhall, Operation Greylord: Brocton Lockwood's Story, Southern Illinois Univ. Press, Carbondale, 1989.
- J. Tuohy and R. Warden, Greylord: Justice, Chicago Style, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1989.
- United States v. Maloney, 71 F.3d 645, 650-652 (7th Cir. 1995).
- Operation Greylord, Federal Bureau of Investigation, March 15, 2004, http://www.fbi.gov/page2/march04/greylord031504.htm.
- See also: Smaller Greylords in Smaller Cities?
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