Getting through a security checkpoint can be a hassle. It's a modern day reality most of us have to deal with. But, some Cook County judges are thumbing their noses at strict new security measures at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.
It all started earlier this year when Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart tightened up the security procedures for the criminal courts and jail complex at 26th and California.
FOX 32 and the Better Government Association have obtained copies of incident reports, showing a dozen judges are flatly refusing to obey the new rules and displaying behavior that some might call "injudicious."
It's 9 o'clock in the morning outside the Leighton Criminal Courthouse. FOX 32's Dane Placko watches as dozens of vehicles--including those driven by uniformed sheriff's employees--are stopped and searched. It happens every time they drive into, or leave, the heavily secured part of the courthouse and jail complex, which sits behind a tall fence topped by razor wire.
But, FOX 32 News also noticed a number of cars that don't get searched and roll right past the checkpoint. Those are registered to Cook County judges, many of whom have refused to follow the new security procedures--in some cases dropping f-bombs on sheriff's deputies trying to do their jobs.
"Judges are not superior beings. Judges are not entitled to special treatment," says Andy Shaw with the Better Government Association. "They are elected public officials, and if they have a beef with the security system, take it to the sheriff who's in charge of security. Don't act out in the parking lot like children."
The showdown started last April when Sheriff Tom Dart sent a letter to Cook County's Chief Judge Tim Evans, outlining new security requirements for anyone trying to access the area that includes the judge's parking lot.
In addition to showing an ID, "all vehicles... will be subject to higher level security checks. Officers will conduct a visual examination of the passenger area and trunk or cargo area of those vehicles."
But within days, there were problems. The officers who work this checkpoint began filing incident reports about judges refusing to show id's or pop their trunks.
Judge Peggy Chiampas is quoted as yelling: "Do you have a warrant? Without a warrant I will never open my trunk."
Another report says Judge James B. Linn "...continued his tirade stating 'this is bulls**t' and used other profanities."
When asked to show his ID upon exiting, Judge Dennis Porter allegedly said: "I am the same judge I was this f**king morning. F**k you!"
And when officers asked to see Judge Stanley Sacks' ID before allowing him to leave the parking lot, he dialed 911 and reported he was being "unlawfully restrained."
None of the dozen judges identified in the incident reports would talk to us on camera, but some questioned the reasoning behind the security changes. They believe the sheriff is clamping down because of an ongoing feud with their boss, Chief Judge Evans, over courtroom efficiency and jail overcrowding.
Said one judge: "Am I taking a prisoner home to have dinner with my wife?...if [Dart] walked in here right now I'd ask for his ID."
The judges are also angry that a prisoner was able to smuggle a shank into a courtroom bathroom last summer.
"If Dart can explain to me how a guy got into a courtroom with a shank... I'll pop my trunk for him," the judge continued.
A sheriff's spokesman says the fact the shank was discovered shows the sheriffs were doing their job.
"If Tim Evans and his judges believe this is a vendetta by the sheriff, they should sit down with the sheriff and talk it out," says Judge Shaw. "Let the sheriff explain why they need this extra security, let the judges explain what's wrong with it from their point of view. They're reasonable adults, they're trained lawyers, they're public officials. They ought to be able to work this out."
A couple of the judges named in the incident reports did talk to FOX 32 News on the record.
Judge James Linn says he has no problems with the Sheriff's Department, and appreciates all they do to protect the judges every day.
Judge Dennis Porter acknowledged using the f-word, but says he used it out of exasperation and it wasn't aimed at the officer.
In a statement, Chief Judge Evans responded to our story, stating: "When I was informed about these incident reports, I immediately reached out to the judges. Their recollections do not comport with what the sheriff claims occurred. However, the judges also told me that they were very concerned that the sheriff does not uniformly enforce his new security procedures. He stops judges but not UPS trucks or other vehicles. Especially after the horrible tragedy yesterday in our nation's capital, the sheriff's inconsistent application of his own security procedures is of even greater concern to me and the judges at 26th and California."
A spokesperson for the sheriff responded to that by saying: "Judge Evan's reaction is puzzling given that the only response we received was from judges who felt they shouldn't be subjected to any security measures."