By Jason Poje
Editor’s Note: The following is an email written by Cook County District Attorney Jason Poje, distributed to colleagues last week.)
To my colleagues:
After 20 years, I always thought an email like this would start with “It’s with a heavy heart that I’m leaving…” The truth is, I can’t get out of here fast enough.
Let me start with the positive. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t felt truly honored to work with such an incredible group of people who have spent every hour of their day on behalf of victims. This opportunity has been a gift for which I have no words to explain the extent of my gratitude.
My partners, our victim/witness advocates, our investigators, our support staff, the police and detectives, time and time again I see each of you doing all you can to help the people we meet in the worst days of their lives. So often I see our personal lives, and sometimes even our own well-being, pushed aside just to do a little more on that last case for that last victim. It was just inspiring not as a lawyer, but as a person.
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And yet, I leave. Why could this be? The simple fact is that this state and this county is headed down the road to disaster. And the worst part is that the agency I work for has literally supported every policy change that has had the predictable and intended result of increased crime and injury.
Bond reform designed to ensure no one stays in jail while their case is pending with no safety net to handle more criminals on the streets, shorter parole periods, lower sentences for repeat offenders , malicious and unnecessary prosecutions of law enforcement officers, overuse of diversion programs, intentionally not prosecuting crimes legally recorded after they have been passed by our legislature and signed into law by a governor, all these so-called reforms have had a direct negative impact, with consequences that will last for a generation.
Many years ago my family found a nice quiet corner of the suburbs. Now my son, who is only 5, hears gunshots while playing in our neighborhood park, and a drug dealer is selling in the open air behind my house (the second in two years). If it was just me to consider, I’d hold on. I’ve been faced with stupid state attorney policies before. But the utter inability of this Office to think for a moment before rushing into one popular political program after another has put my family in direct danger.
The current officials of this state, including the [State’s Attorney’s Office] suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding…we live in a society where courts and criminal justice processes are adversarial. Defense attorneys, legal aid clinics, public defenders, defendant advocacy groups…they are fighting like hell to protect the rights of defendants. And they should. Their work is as noble as ours. But we have an obligation to fight like hell on behalf of the People. It goes without saying that this must be done in an ethical and impartial manner. When both sides vigorously defend their positions, a balance is struck between protecting rights while preserving some sort of order and security. Once we start overdoing the work of defense, once we fire our shots, once we decide it’s worth risking the lives of citizens to get a little social experience, that balance is lost. . The inevitable consequences are what we are witnessing in real time, an increase in crime of all kinds, businesses and families upping the ante, and bodies piling up; all the time with a state attorney insisting there’s nothing to do here, and if there is, it must be someone else’s fault. And then they wonder why they can’t retain experienced prosecutors or even hire new ones…it’s because any real prosecutor recognizes the importance of that balance, and they won’t be allowed to be a prosecutor under that administration.
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I will not raise my son here. I’m lucky to have the means to escape, so my whole family leaves the state of Illinois. I grew up here, my family and friends are here, and yet my own employer has made it a place I’m no longer proud to be and where my son is not safe.
To everyone in the trenches of the State’s Attorney’s Office and law enforcement, my only regret is that I can no longer stand by your side as you continue to fight the good fight. I don’t envy the task ahead of you, but you have my respect for continuing. I hope that one day you will be able to bring some kind of common sense and safety back to our communities.
Thank you all for this opportunity to serve. I will cherish every moment of this chapter of my life. Be safe, be well, fight hard.
Jason F. Poje
Deputy Public Prosecutor
Syndicated with permission by RealClearWire.
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