Activists call out bond court judges for indiscretion
Rev. Charles Straight and fellow activists stood before a cluster of microphones, reminding media members of the Chicago Police Department’s ongoing history of misconduct and the repercussions of pretrial incarceration.
“If you’re black or brown in Chicago and Cook County, you can be arrested in a moment’s notice,” Straight said. “We’re talking about people who have not been convicted… being isolated from your community.”
Last year, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans issued General Order 18.8A, requiring criminal court judges to consider whether people awaiting their court date can afford bail before it’s set. The number of people held in Cook County Jail on money bonds dropped by 1,500 (or 56 percent) just three months after the order was instated, according to a Chicago Community Bond Fund report. But in the following months, volunteer court watchers have witnessed that progress diminish and even revert back to pre-order levels.
In response, the Coalition to End Money Bond met with Evans on Nov. 13 and called for bond court judges Michael Clancy and John Lyke to be reassigned, asserting both Clancy and Lyke have disregarded the order.
“People held in jail on unaffordable bonds are losing jobs and families,” SOUL activist Ab Weeks said, adding the average stay in Cook County Jail is four months. “You have people like Judge Clancy and Judge Lyke that are going to their job everyday and actively ignoring the law, and they’re not terminated from their positions.”
I-Bonds, which permit a defendant’s release on their promise to return for their court dates, doubled after the order was instituted in September 2017. D-Bonds, requiring defendants to pay 10 percent of a set bail amount, decreased by 29 percent in that span before many of the bond court judges reverted back to old practices, the report states.
Clancy is the only one of six bond court judges who gives D-Bonds more often than I-Bonds, while Lyke has assigned unaffordable bonds at the highest rate among all judges. While there is a disparity in decision-making between Clancy, Lyke and the other judges, activists have argued that the money bond system is predatory to those living in poverty, no matter who’s on the stand.
“We are fighting this fight because these things happen to the most vulnerable in our society,” Straight said. “Those who are poor and those who are under attack from the systems that keep them poor and keep them struggling day-to-day.”
Former judges, prosecutors and activists have urged the Illinois Supreme Court to create rules of setting bail that can be enforced statewide. A council is currently being assembled to frame legislation and is considering civilian insight.
Over 40 organizations, including the People’s Lobby, collaborated in ousting Circuit Court Judge Matthew Coghlan by urging voters to vote no on his retention bid in November. Coghlan was the first judge to lose their retention bid in 28 years, leaving organizers optimistic for future judicial oversight.
“We are fully supportive of judge’s discretion,” Straight said. “But it should cut across all lines you shouldn’t be a risk to society simply because you don’t have enough money to pay your bail.”