Stay denied on witness rights; no pressure yet to enforce order

One day after a federal judge ruled that Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors routinely violated the rights of witnesses, he refused on Tuesday to issue a stay of his order while the city and county appeal it.

Still, Chicago police will not have to immediately change the way they handle witnesses, as U.S. District Court Judge Milton Shadur ordered.

Attorneys for First Defense Legal Aid, the not-for-profit group that brought the lawsuit that led to Shadur's ruling, said they would not press to have the ruling enforced until a federal appeals court here considers the issue.

The legal maneuvering came as city officials, including Mayor Richard Daley and Police Supt. Terry Hillard, criticized the Shadur ruling and Shadur derided city lawyers' attempts to say that the ruling would hinder police efforts to solve crime.

Shadur ruled Monday that Chicago police routinely had violated the 1st Amendment rights of crime witnesses by denying them access to lawyers while holding them--sometimes for more than 24 hours--in interrogation rooms that are small, windowless and frequently locked.

Shadur issued an injunction ordering Chicago police to immediately begin allowing lawyers to see the witnesses. To verify police compliance, the attorneys must be present when police tell the witnesses they have arrived, Shadur ordered.

Lawyers representing the city and Cook County state's attorney went to court Tuesday asking Shadur to stay the injunction while they appeal. The attorneys argued that the ruling could hinder law enforcement efforts to solve crimes--a claim that Shadur quickly rejected.

"There's another whole side of this and that's law enforcement, which is protecting the citizens of this city," said June Ghezzi, an attorney in private practice who represents Hillard and four police commanders named in the First Defense lawsuit.

And although police officials testified during hearings that their witnesses are discouraged from talking to attorneys, Sharon Baldwin, a city Law Department attorney, told Shadur that "it's not our policy to do it the wrong way."

Baldwin also suggested that Shadur's ruling could help to allow criminals to go free because witnesses do not cooperate with detectives. Police had contended that witnesses consulting attorneys was partly to blame for a falling rate of solving murders.

That comment sparked an angry response from the judge, who told Baldwin, "Playing the murder card is like playing the race card. ... Any suggestion that what this does is encourage lawlessness is misguided."

Locke Bowman, an attorney representing First Defense, said that while he agreed with Shadur's decision to deny the request for a stay, he also accepted that it was necessary for a federal appeals court to weigh in. Shadur's ruling also was criticized outside the courtroom. Daley, a former state's attorney, said that the judge's ruling is "not supported by any legal precedents."

Copyright 2002 by the Chicago Tribune