Former Lincoln Park alderman comes out swinging against chief judge, citing lack of transparency, ‘misleading’ analysis of bail reform

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans and retired Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith | Wikipedia; Ward43

Recently-retired Chicago Alderman Michele Smith is encouraging her past supporters to vote against the retention of Cook County’s top judge in the current election cycle. Smith, who retired on August 12 after representing the 43rd Ward since 2011, pulled no punches in her email, which also included her recommendations for other offices on the ballot.

Smith began her argument against Chief Judge Timothy Evans by pointing to his 2017 order that changed how county judges set bail for people accused of crimes. She went on to call Evans’ defense of his order “misleading.”

“We are all aware of the controversy over pre-trial detention,” Smith wrote. “However, underlying all of this controversy is a lack of transparent and accurate data.”

“Cook County has no easily publicly accessible, searchable database for its criminal justice system. It’s almost impossible for the media (much less the public) to actually track the progress of criminal cases through the system,” Smith said.

“The decision to NOT have this data for criminal cases falls squarely on the Chief Judge and the County Clerk.”

She went on to say that the lack of transparency and easy-to-access data throws Evans’ claims about the success of his 2017 order into question.

“The impact of this lack of data is significant because the Court’s data has been found unreliable. In May 2019 the Circuit Court published a study of the first 18 months of implementation of the new bail bond rules. The county claimed that rates of re-offending (meaning an arrest) were the same 18 months after implementation of the new rules. No underlying data was made available,” Smith wrote.

“The Chicago Tribune published a report in 2020 after a hand analysis of case files of all murders committed after the report was issued. That analysis found that instead of three murders committed by offenders who were out on bail there were twenty-one.”

“The Court’s analysis of its data is also misleading. In its report, the court stated that after being released on bond, the same percentage of people were not rearrested, 82.2% before and 83.1% after – and claimed that crime by people out on bond had not increased,” Smith said.

“However, straightforward math shows that the number of crimes increased after the bail bond rules changed. In the first 18 months of the new system, 4164 new crimes were committed by felony defendants out on bond compared to 3712 in the 18 months before the new system, a total of 452 new crimes – 8 more a week of the most violent crimes in our city.”

“More shocking is that the court’s calculations on violent crimes committed by released defendants do NOT include crimes such as domestic battery, assault, assault with a deadly weapon, battery, armed violence and reckless homicide,” Smith wrote.

“The person responsible for the issuance of Order 18.8 and the person responsible for the courts, Chief Judge Evans, has not made the data available for unbiased study,” Smith asserted. “I therefore recommend a NO vote to retain Chief Judge Evans (#218) despite his other accomplishments over his long career.”

Here is the full text of what Smith wrote about Evans:

Judicial Recommendations

The vast majority of the judges up for retention sit in the courts. They decide lawsuits, probate estates, and work in areas like housing and evictions.

This election, however, the voters must consider the retention of a judge who has a unique policy-making role in the criminal justice system – Chief Judge of Circuit Court, Judge Evans. In particular, in 2017, Chief Judge Evans issued his Order 18.8, significantly changing the way pre-trial bond is determined in Cook County.

We are all aware of the controversy over pre-trial detention. However, underlying all of this controversy is a lack of transparent and accurate data.

In Chicago, the city’s data portal has a record of every crime reported to the police since 2001. It can be searched by ward, date and type of crime. While not perfect, it provides an ability to understand reported crime in our neighborhood.

Cook County has no easily publicly accessible, searchable database for its criminal justice system. It’s almost impossible for the media (much less the public) to actually track the progress of criminal cases through the system.

The decision to NOT have this data for criminal cases falls squarely on the Chief Judge and the County Clerk. Good government organizations such as the Civic Federation and reform groups like Chicago Appleseed have been calling for more transparency in the data processes of the criminal courts since at least 2017.

The impact of this lack of data is significant because the Court’s data has been found unreliable. In May 2019 the Circuit Court published a study of the first 18 months of implementation of the new bail bond rules. The county claimed that rates of re-offending (meaning an arrest) were the same 18 months after implementation of the new rules. No underlying data was made available.

The Chicago Tribune published a report in 2020 after a hand analysis of case files of all murders committed after the report was issued. That analysis found that instead of three murders committed by offenders who were out on bail there were twenty-one.

The Court’s analysis of its data is also misleading. In its report, the court stated that after being released on bond, the same percentage of people were not rearrested, 82.2% before and 83.1% after – and claimed that crime by people out on bond had not increased.

However, straightforward math shows that the number of crimes increased after the bail bond rules changed. In the first 18 months of the new system, 4164 new crimes were committed by felony defendants out on bond compared to 3712 in the 18 months before the new system, a total of 452 new crimes – 8 more a week of the most violent crimes in our city.

More shocking is that the court’s calculations on violent crimes committed by released defendants do NOT include crimes such as domestic battery, assault, assault with a deadly weapon, battery, armed violence and reckless homicide.

As of June 30, 2022 the Court states that 83,206 adult felony defendants have been released under the new order, and at least 15,060 of those arrested and released on bond under the new system were arrested for new crimes.

No comparative analysis is available to calculate how many of those would have been released under the old system. The Court continues to release quarterly or monthly dashboards with the same unsubstantiated data.

There are many more questions about this data, such as the impact on the dramatic increase in the number of defendants on electronic monitoring, the re-arrest records of misdemeanor defendants and the large number of crimes committed for which there are no arrests. There is no analysis at all about juvenile defendants, only adults.

The person responsible for the issuance of Order 18.8 and the person responsible for the courts, Chief Judge Evans, has not made the data available for unbiased study.

I therefore recommend a NO vote to retain Chief Judge Evans (#218) despite his other accomplishments over his long career.

Here is what she wrote about the other judges on the ballot:

Judicial Retention Ballot

Appellate Court Retentions: Appellate Court justices are elected to 10-year terms and must be retained in office to win additional 10-year terms.

I recommend Yes for all Appellate Court Retentions.

Circuit Court Judicial Retentions: Circuit Court judges have a six year term of office and must be retained every six years thereafter.

I recommend “Yes” for all judges
except vote “No” for the following judges:

218 Timothy C. Evans
242 Daniel James Pierce – would not participate in the evaluation process
255 Ann Finley Collins – would not participate in the evaluation process
257 Daniel J. Gallagher – Judge Gallagher, while a compassionate judge, has made it difficult to achieve justice in our misdemeanor cases. With frequent “do overs” for defendants, delays and continuances, even our own attempts to get defendants treatment for drug or mental health issues in lieu of incarceration took tremendous effort by our citizens, victims and our office.
282 Rossana P. Fernandez – Several bar associations recommend she leave the bench for poor disposition.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com