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Prosecutors And Public Defenders Get Pink Slips As Pop Tax Fallout Hits

By  Erica Demarest Heather Cherone and Kelly Bauer | July 14, 2017 2:52pm | Updated on July 14, 2017 4:16pm

 Kim Foxx, Cook County state's attorney, saw her office lay off 17 prosecutors and 22 staffers Friday due to county budget problems.
Kim Foxx, Cook County state's attorney, saw her office lay off 17 prosecutors and 22 staffers Friday due to county budget problems.
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DOWNTOWN — The fallout from the Cook County pop tax delay was felt Friday in the county departments that prosecute and defend people in court, setting the stage for trial delays.

Nearly 40 people have been laid off from the Cook County State's Attorney Office, including 17 prosecutors.

The layoffs were announced Friday, with a source confirming 22 staff members had been let go alongside the 17 state's attorneys. A notice sent to clerks Friday warned they, too, could face layoffs, job eliminations or demotions in upcoming weeks.

Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli said her office was required to cut $2.5 million, or 10 percent of its total budget. That means 69 employees, including at least 60 attorneys, received layoff notices Friday. Support staff and investigators were also let go.

"It's devastating to my office," Campanelli said Friday. Only 573 employees will remain once the layoffs take effect. Campanelli said she employs 642 people now, down from more than 700 two years ago.

The new cut "will delay trials and the resolution of cases. We will not be able to provide essential legal services. ... I may have to close divisions," Campanelli said. "I think these cuts will make it harder to protect against police abuse and prosecutorial misconduct. ... Things fall through the cracks when your workload is too high."

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle warned earlier this week that about 1,100 county employees could get layoff notices as county officials scramble to make up for the $68 million the tax was expected to bring in through the end of 2017 and the $200 million it was expected to bring in during 2018.

The State's Attorney's Office also warned of impending layoffs in an email to staff Monday. That office employs more than 700 prosecutors and 1,100 additional staffers, according to its website.

An appellate court Monday rejected the county's request to allow the tax to be implemented. The tax will remain blocked until at least July 21.

At Cook County Criminal Courthouse, 2650 S. California Ave., a staffer could be seen crying in a courtroom amid the layoffs Friday. Another cried in a bathroom while her friend comforted her.

Preckwinkle said in a July 6 letter to county commissioners that the judge's decision had caused "immense strain" on the county's finances. Before the tax was blocked, Preckwinkle had proposed closing a $98 million gap in the county's 2018 budget with spending cuts.

State's Attorney Kim Foxx said her office would have to cut $4 million from its budget because of the block on the tax.

Tanya Triche Dawood, vice president of the merchants association that brought the lawsuit with several store owners, told reporters that it was "absolutely necessary" that the "unconstitutional" tax be blocked because it treats sweetened drinks sold in a bottle differently than sweetened drinks prepared to order.

Dubbed the "pop tax," the fee — approved by the Cook County Board of Commissioners by one vote last November — also applies to hundreds of beverages beyond soft drinks.

The beverage industry lobby, which opposes the tax, has circulated a sample list of affected drinks, which runs 11 pages. The list includes juice drinks, sports drinks like Gatorade, flavored water with zero calories or sweeteners, iced tea, pop and lemonade.

Read the State's Attorney's Office notice:

Read the notice to clerks: