AS­SIS­TANT PUB­LIC DE­FEND­ERS FILE SEX­UAL HA­RASS­MENT SUIT OVER MAS­TUR­BAT­ING IN­MATES

Chicago Sun-Times - - CITY BEAT - BY ANDY GRIMM Staff Re­porter Email: agrimm@ sun­times. com Twit­ter: @ agrimm34

A half- dozen em­ploy­ees of the Cook County Pub­lic De­fender’s of­fice have filed a sex­ual ha­rass­ment law­suit, claim­ing county of­fi­cials have done noth­ing to pro­tect them from in­mates who mas­tur­bate in front of them dur­ing vis­its to the jail and court­room hold­ing cells.

The fed­eral law­suit de­scribes al­most daily en­coun­ters in which de­tainees mas­tur­bate and leer at the lawyers dur­ing meet­ings with clients — a phe­nom­e­non the com­plainants say has been on the rise at the jail dat­ing back to 2015.

The law­suit seeks class- ac­tion sta­tus on be­half of women work­ing for the of­fice, in­clud­ing more than 200 of 400 staff at­tor­neys.

Pub­lic de­fend­ers’ “work is gru­el­ing, and their caseloads are heavy, but they are al­most uni­formly driven by their love of the im­por­tant work they do,” the law­suit reads.

“How­ever, as a re­sult of the tox- ic work en­vi­ron­ment caused and per­pet­u­ated by the de­fen­dants in con­cert, they are forced to reg­u­larly en­dure heinous sex­ual mis­con­duct, rob­bing many of their love of the job, maybe per­ma­nently.”

A spokesman for Chief Judge Ti­mothy Evans de­clined com­ment Wed­nes­day, cit­ing state Supreme Court rules bar­ring judges from com­ment­ing on pend­ing cases.

Pub­lic De­fender Amy Cam­pan­elli’s deputy, Lester Fin­kle, said Wed­nes­day that the of­fice had not yet re­ceived an of­fi­cial copy of the law­suit.

Last month, Cam­pan­elli, who is named in the law­suit, de­cried the ris­ing num­ber of in­stances where her staff are sub­jected to in­mates ex­pos­ing them­selves as a cri­sis and called on Sher­iff Tom Dart and Evans to find a so­lu­tion.

Cam­pan­elli last week or­dered all staff not to en­ter court­room lock­ups, where de­fen­dants rou­tinely ex­pose them­selves and mas­tur­bate in front of fe­male at­tor­neys and clerks.

The law­suit states that the prac­tice is un­fair to clients, and fe­male at­tor­neys, who can’t meet pri­vately with de­tainees at the jail, and the plain­tiffs also take is­sue with other steps that have been taken to try to stop the ha­rass­ment.

Cam­pan­elli has said she wants ex­tra sher­iff ’s of­fi­cers on hand in court­room lock­ups, a so­lu­tion Dart has said costs him $ 40,000 per week in over­time. Dart, also named in the law­suit, has backed leg­is­la­tion that would have upped the crim­i­nal charges as­so­ci­ated with in­de­cent ex­po­sure cases that take place in a jail or prison, but the bill stalled be­cause of op­po­si­tion from Cam­pan­elli.

In an email, Dart’s pol­icy chief, Cara Smith, said the sher­iff would con­tinue to try to ad­dress the “de­spi­ca­ble be­hav­ior” by de­tainees. More than 200 de­tainees have been charged with in­de­cent ex­po­sure since Jan­uary, in­clud­ing 20 com­plaints filed by pub­lic de­fend­ers.

“We are hope­ful the [ De­fender’s] of­fice will work with us to find so­lu­tions to this prob­lem, in­stead of im­ped­ing pro­posed so­lu­tions we put forth,” Smith said. “No woman or em­ployee should have to en­dure sex­ual ha­rass­ment in the work­place.”

Mir­ror­ing grum­bling by some fe­male staff at the busy crim­i­nal court build­ing at 26th Street and Cal­i­for­nia, the law­suit also crit­i­cizes Cam­pan­elli for bar­ring the sher­iff ’s of­fi­cers from shack­ling all in­mates dur­ing meet­ings with at­tor­neys and faults Dart’s Au­gust de­ci­sion to pull back ad­di­tional of­fi­cers who staffed lockup ar­eas.

Amy Cam­pan­elli

Cook County Jail SUN- TIMES FILE PHOTO

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