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Journalist Steve Bogira, author of Courtroom 302, the nationally acclaimed expose of the Cook County Criminal Courthouse on 26th Street & California streets in Chicago, recently visited Jenner & Block to urge attorneys to continue to take on pro bono cases there.
Mr. Bogira spent a year in Judge Daniel Locallo’s courtroom, number 302, following hundreds of criminal cases at what he has determined is the “biggest and busiest felony courthouse in the nation.” The resulting book has received numerous accolades from the press – it was hailed by the Los Angeles Times as a “powerful and moving consideration of how the justice system deprives some of their liberty and others of their ideals.”
At the Firm’s luncheon, Mr. Bogira said that too often people “don’t pay attention” to the thousands indigent defendants the court sees each year, most of whom are accused of non-violent, drug-related offenses. And, he noted that only 1% of the cases at the courthouse result in jury trials. Most cases, he said, end up with guilty plea bargains for reduced sentences.
The pressure he observed from both the “overworked” public defenders and prosecutors on such defendants to plead guilty without trial, perhaps in response to the court’s high volume of cases, breeds “cynicism” of the criminal justice system, Mr. Bogira said.
However, the author suggested that pro bono work on behalf of such defendants by Jenner & Block and other law firms might stimulate improvements to the administration of justice.
Jenner & Block Partners and Pro Bono Committee members Richard P. Steinken and Terrence J. Truax organized the event in an effort to encourage the Firm’s attorneys to continue Jenner & Block’s tradition of handling pro bono matters at 26th Street & California. Both attorneys took on some of their first pro bono matters at the court.
“We hope this event will be a springboard for you to do pro bono work for some of those in society who need it the most,” Mr. Steinken told the attorneys in attendance.
Pictured with Mr. Bogira (second from right) at the talk are Messrs. Truax and Steinken with Partner and Pro Bono Committee Co-Chair Barry Levenstam, who is also a veteran pro bono litigator at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse.