The Few Who Profane the Robe | Letters | Chicago Reader

The Few Who Profane the Robe 

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Dear sirs and mesdames:

I read with much interest the lead story in your Friday, March 5, 2004, edition. The article's heading, "A Law Abiding Judge," correctly reflects the professionalism and rockbound belief in the rule of law of the main subject in the story, Judge Leo Holt.

I commend the article's author, Steve Bogira, for his fairness and objectivity. His report about a subject and public official who has been critically pictured in recent months was evenhanded and well-balanced, on the highest level of honest factual reporting. He has, in his reporting, starkly outlined the opposite style adopted by those reporters of the Chicago Tribune who allowed themselves to be used by the state's attorney's office in their front-page story about Judge Holt on February 19, 2004. In that story they departed from time-honored principles of factual reporting to join the state's attorney's bold attempt at intimidating Judge Holt and through him the entire judiciary.

Our criminal justice system is under attack. It has, here in Illinois, unjustly convicted and put on death row so many innocent people that former Governor Ryan, in order to prevent the horror of executing an innocent person, placed a gubernatorial moratorium on executions. The major responsibility, in my judgment, for the system's breakdown rests on the judiciary. Judges at this stage of our existence do not enjoy the respect and public regard which the office once held. A major portion of our citizenry, our black and Hispanic communities, has an active distrust of criminal court judges and judges as a group. This sort of attitude is fostered by a feeling that, as to them, judges are not fair, judges do not follow the law. There is a widespread belief in these communities that judges are the handmaidens of prosecutors.

This belief that judges and prosecutors band together is not far-fetched. Note Steve Bogira's comment: "Defense lawyers--private attorneys and public defenders--are far more likely than prosecutors to file an SOJ [substitution of judge], a reflection of the tighter bond that usually exists between judges and prosecutors" (emphasis mine). This is a bond which under our law should not exist. No judge who respects his or her oath of professional integrity should allow that kind of attachment to occur. However, what shouldn't happen differs from what actually happens, hence our present state. This failure to be bound to the prosecutor goes a long way toward explaining the reason for the state's attorney's displeasure with Judge Holt and why when his mandatory retirement date arrives this November 2004, according to Bogira, "no one in the state's attorney's office will shed a tear."

I would like to make clear that not all of our judges fall into the category of being bound to the state's attorney by that tight bond described by your reporter. An overwhelming majority fall on the side which Judge Holt subscribes to. Only a minute few profane the robe and their oaths. It is, however, those few who have thrown the system askew. The feeling of public trust in the integrity of our judicial judgments is seriously compromised in many instances. We must repair that breach. We must not continue to allow a major number of our citizenry to carry a feeling that they cannot receive a fair trial in their courts.

Earl E. Strayhorn

Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County (retired)

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