I urge you to join me in opposition to the planned closure of the branch courthouse, located at 2452 W. Belmont (at Western).
The courtrooms at the Belmont and Western courthouse hear preliminary felony and misdemeanor cases for Chicago’s north side neighborhoods, including Rogers Park. Under the proposal, most of the cases heard at Belmont and Western would be shifted to the courthouse at Harrison and Kedzie and a few might be heard at the Skokie courthouse on Old Orchard Road.
To learn how you can help me in opposing this misguided plan, scroll to the bottom of this post.
Closing the Belmont and Western courthouse will impede our efforts to reduce crime
If adopted, this proposal would require victims, defendants, witnesses, and law enforcement officers in Rogers Park to travel greater distances for each case, resulting in increases in time, money and inconvenience for all involved and impeding our ability to fight crime and keep our neighborhood safe.
Successful prosecution of criminal cases requires the crime victims and witnesses to appear in court. It is often difficult under the best of circumstances to convince victims and witnesses to appear in court to testify. Time from away from work and fear of retaliation already serve as major impediments. Extending the time and distance it takes victims and witnesses to travel to court would add yet another impediment to securing their essential appearance in court cases.
Similarly, closing the courthouse also would discourage participation in our court advocacy efforts in which community residents volunteer to attend court hearings to advocate for victims of crime and ensure they and their cases get the attention they deserve from the assistant state’s attorneys and judges.
In just the last few months, my office organized community residents to attend court cases at Belmont and Western for a defendant accused of exposing himself to women and a defendant accused of stealing packages delivered to homes. In both cases, the presence of community residents in the courtroom ensured the cases were fully prosecuted and the defendants received the mental health and drug treatment services they needed.
Those efforts will be far more difficult to organize if our local courthouse is closed and volunteer court advocates are forced to travel greater distances to attend hearings in courthouses much further from their home.
Finally, closing the Belmont and Western courthouse also would require our 24th District police officers to travel a greater distance to attend court hearings, resulting in less officer time on the streets and more overtime costs to the City.
In short, this proposal strips away a vital crime-fighting resource for Rogers Park.
Why is the Belmont and Western courthouse slated to be closed?
Chief Judge Evans was forced to cut costs after the Cook County Board last year voted to repeal the so-called “pop tax” and failed to come up with an alternative revenue source.
Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who represents most of Rogers Park, was one of a very few courageous commissioners to vote against the repeal, warning of the dire consequences that would result from the County Board’s act of fiscal irresponsibility. Unfortunately, his warnings are coming to pass, as county residents face harmful cuts to health care, social services and public safety due to the budget cuts.
As part of the effort to close the $200 million budget gap, the County Board approved a plan that called for Chief Judge Evans to lay off more than 155 workers. The chief judge challenged the plan in court on the grounds that the board could not tell him how to spend money given to the office he controls..
In December, a Lake County circuit court judge agreed with Chief Judge Evans in a ruling that put the layoffs on hold. The court decision sent President Preckwinkle and Chief Judge Evans to the bargaining table, resulting in a proposed settlement that calls for the closure of two branch courts–Belmont and Western and 155 W. 51st Street.
Here’s how you can help
President Preckwinkle and Chief Judge Evans are the principal actors in the decision to close the court at Belmont and Western. Ordinarily the County Board would have final approval over an agreement of this sort, but I am told a technicality in that rule may enable the president and the chief judge to bypass the board.
Please join me in calling upon President Preckwinkle and Chief Judge Evans to find a funding alternative to keep the branch court at Belmont and Western open. Contact them at the phone numbers and email addresses below:
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
Chief Judge Timothy Evans