CWBChicago does not endorse or recommend judges or candidates for political office. In the past, we have provided our subscribers with information about Cook County judges who handle criminal matters during bi-annual retention vote cycles. We have decided to publish this year’s information for all readers.
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Perhaps the most influential judge who is up for retention in the current election cycle is Timothy C. Evans, the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County. The chief judge does not hear cases, but he heavily influences the county’s justice system through judicial assignments, policy decisions, the operation of an electronic monitoring program for people awaiting trial, and management of the adult probation department and juvenile detention programs.
Evans, 79, was a Chicago alderman from 1973 to 1991, when he lost a re-election campaign to now-Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. He became a Cook County judge in 1992 and rose to chief judge in 2001. He has held the position ever since.
Evans is endorsed or highly rated by all of the state’s major bar groups.
As chief judge, he has created and pushed for the use of restorative justice courtrooms and other alternatives to traditional criminal courts.
In 2017, Evans issued an order that directed judges to prioritize non-monetary bail conditions for people accused of crimes long before the state legislature passed the upcoming banishment of cash bail statewide. In concert with his order, Evans replaced the slate of seasoned judges who handled daily bond court hearings.
Looking ahead, Evans has said he does not believe electronic monitoring is the most effective way to prevent people accused of crimes from committing new offenses while awaiting trial.
“I believe programs providing cognitive behavioral therapy are a better means of bringing about long-lasting changes in individual behavior,” Evans wrote in January.
However, Evans’ public statements about his reform efforts and office operations have sometimes been, at best, misleading.
Speaking about the effectiveness of his 2017 bail reform order, Evans in 2019 claimed, “We haven’t had any horrible incidents occur” since the changes were enacted.
In fact, some people who benefited from Evans’ reforms had been charged with murder, attempted murder, and other violent crimes while on pre-trial release.
On January 10, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart told a Lakeview community meeting that Evans would not provide the sheriff’s office with any information about an electronic monitoring (EM) program that Evans’ office operates for people who are awaiting trial. For example, Dart said there was no way to know who was on the judge’s EM program or what charges they were facing.
A couple of weeks later, Evans delivered the keynote speech at a Union League Club luncheon. An audience member asked Evans about Dart’s statements and the lack of transparency surrounding Evans’ EM program.
Evans smiled and happily told the audience that his EM program information was publicly available on the court’s website.
A quick check of the court’s website revealed that, in fact, there was a new section about the EM program, and it contained two PDF reports about who was on the court’s electronic monitoring system. One report was dated December 31, and the other was dated January 12. The implication was that the court’s reports were available to the public when Dart said no information was known about the program.
But metadata embedded in the PDFs showed that both reports were generated on January 13, three days after Dart made his comments. Asked in January to explain the metadata and the chief judge’s claims, Evans’ office did not respond.
During the same Union League speech, he addressed the hot-topic issue of releasing murder and attempted murder defendants on electronic monitoring. He told the audience, “Not one person who has been charged with murder or even attempted murder has been ordered to electronic monitoring under the sheriff since October of last year. So that whole process is changing and I just want you to be well aware of it.”
In fact, CWBChicago found about 20 people accused of murder and attempted murder had been placed on electronic monitoring during that period.
Asked about the discrepancy, Evans’ office said, “No one charged with attempted murder or murder after October has been ordered to electronic monitoring and been released. Some people facing attempted murder or murder charges were placed on EM after October 31, but they had been arrested before, in some cases, years before.”