Lawmakers to probe prosecutorial abuses (Jan 21 1999) – Tribune

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Lawmakers to probe prosecutorial abuses Madigan calls for special Illinois House panel By Ken Armstrong and Rick Pearson Tribune Staff Writers January 21, 1999 In response to a recent Tribune series, the Illinois House plans to create a committee on prosecutorial misconduct to explore possible legislative remedies for alleged problems in the state’s judicial system. The committee, which will be formed next week, will hear testimony on how prosecutors sometimes violate the rules of a fair trial, said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago). Chairing the committee will be Rep. James Durkin, a Republican from west suburban Westchester, who formerly was an assistant Cook County state’s attorney, prosecuting cases in the trial and narcotics division. Durkin also previously worked in the state attorney general’s office. Durkin said the Tribune series raised “valid issues” creating public concern over the integrity of the judicial system. Durkin said he was not interested in reviewing specific cases, but he wanted to look at what rules prosecutors use internally to handle cases throughout Illinois. “Let’s take a look at the procedures internally in the prosecutors’ offices and try to teach and tell them what are the boundaries of ethics in a courtroom,” Durkin said. “I’m not sure what direction the committee will take. But it is important we speak to chief judges, to state’s attorneys, to public defenders, criminal defense attorneys and law professors to see if there are problems and look at how to change them,” he said. In its series, “Trial & Error: How Prosecutors Sacrifice Justice to Win,” the Tribune found that at least 381 people nationally have had a homicide conviction reversed in the last four decades because prosecutors committed the worst kinds of misconduct–concealing evidence suggesting innocence or presenting evidence the prosecutors knew to be false. Forty-six of those defendants were tried in Illinois. If the General Assembly does end up taking action, one issue that could arise is whether lawmakers are crossing the line that separates the powers of the legislative and judicial branches. In the face of legislative action, the Illinois Supreme Court has at times asserted its authority over judicial issues, striking down, for example, tort reform. Bob Benjamin, spokesman for Cook County State’s Atty. Dick Devine, said representatives of the office would welcome the opportunity to work with the House. “We’re ready to work with the committee or any organization to discuss this important issue,” Benjamin said. The panel on prosecutorial misconduct is one of six single-interest special committees that Madigan has formed for the House in the new 91st General Assembly. Other panels were created to look at judicial reapportionment, how to distribute proceeds from the state’s settlement with the tobacco industry, mental health and patient abuse, state purchasing rules and the spending of special state funds sent to schools with children from low-income families. Source: // MJJF

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