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Cook County chief judge defends sick day use by judges

Tim Evans

Tim Evans

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Updated: March 19, 2012 10:12AM

Cook County’s chief judge has issued a rare letter defending jurists’ use of sick days after nearly 5 percent of all Cook County Circuit Court judges took more than six weeks of sick time last year — including one judge who has been out of work for more than 10 months after a shoulder injury.

Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans sent the letter this week after Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke inquired about the absences.

He confirmed that 20 of the system’s 411 judges had taken more than 30 sick days in the last year.

“I write today in response to your inquiry yesterday of what you characterized as rumors of unexplained or suspicious ‘judicial absences of weeks or months at a time’ by judges who are assigned to the Circuit Court of Cook County,” Evans said in his Feb. 15th letter, which was obtained by the Sun-Times.

He explained that judges may take less than 30 days of sick time in a year “without medical verification” but couldn’t exceed that amount without a doctor’s note.

While he redacted their names, Evans provided a list of 20 judges who had exceeded the 30 days, including one who took 206 days — far and away the most — after a rotator cuff injury, sources say. Another took 43 paternity days “due to complications of birth of triplets,” the letter states.

“Our judges are human and are vulnerable to the same human frailties as any other human being may be and had to take time off for treatment associated with a full range of medical ailments from the common cold to terminal cancer,” Evans wrote.

Regarding vacation days, Evans said that 4.4 percent of judges, or 18, took more than 30 days off last year. While judges get up to five weeks each year of so-called “permitted leave,” they can carry over unused days from the previous year.

“The average number of days for those 18 judges was 34 days instead of 30 days,” Evans wrote.

Evans couldn’t be reached for comment, but he sent his letter to all 411 judges, sources confirm.

Burke, who also couldn’t be reached for comment, is among seven justices on the state Supreme Court, which sets the rules for Illinois’ lower courts. It’s not clear what prompted her initial letter.

“Justice Burke made some inquiries and Chief Judge Evans was in the process of responding to them,” Supreme Court spokesman Joseph Tybor said Friday.

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