The Cook County Public Defender's mission is to protect the fundamental rights, liberties and dignity of each person whose case has been entrusted to us by providing the finest legal representation.
The Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender is one of the largest legal defense firms in the United States, with more than 500 attorneys and more than 700 employees overall. Each year the office represents tens of thousands of Cook County residents charged with every type of criminal offense and parents facing civil cases involving accusations of abuse and neglect. The Public Defender has an annual budget of approximately $100 million and the responsibility to staff courtrooms throughout the Circuit Court of Cook County.
We represent clients in 12 separate locations, including five suburban courthouses, Juvenile Court, Domestic Relations Court, Traffic Court, five branch court locations throughout Chicago and the Leighton Criminal Courthouse. More information on our locations can be found here.
The divisions of the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender reflect our commitment to providing our clients the most responsive legal representation possible, the areas of law in which we practice and the diversity of the courts throughout the county. More information on our divisions can be found here.
Some of the divisions are organized by location: as in the suburban courthouses, while others are organized by practice type, such as the Child Protection and Juvenile Justice Divisions, which operate out of Juvenile Court. In addition, we have specialty divisions that were created and are maintained to ensure that we have specialists who can provide the most current legal and scientific tools and trial techniques in support of all of our clients.
Eligibility for Representation
The Public Defender of Cook County is Sharone R. Mitchell, Jr. The attorneys in the office work as his assistants. Only people who have cases pending in the Circuit Court of Cook County who are not financially able to pay for private legal representation can have the Public Defender appointed to provide legal services. Whether a person is charged with a misdemeanor, felony, traffic case, child protection violation, delinquent act or has petitioned for post-trial or post-conviction relief, the judge before whom the case is being heard makes the determination whether or not a person requesting to be represented by the Public Defender qualifies for our services.
In order to determine eligibility, the judge may ask any prospective client to provide financial information, including but not limited to income, employment, housing and other financial obligations. Once the judge has determined that a person with a case pending before the court is eligible to be represented by the Cook County Public Defender, an Assistant Public Defender from the appropriate division within the office is appointed to represent them.
Assistant Public Defenders
Each Assistant Public Defender is an attorney licensed to practice law in Illinois. Our attorneys range from recent law school graduates to public defenders who have represented clients in the Illinois courts for up to 40 years. They have been chosen over the years from thousands of potential assistants through a multi-layered application and interview process. They come from all across the United States, having graduated from law schools from New York to California. Each Assistant Public Defender is assigned to a division and supervised by experienced attorneys. Our attorneys are held to high ethical standards by both the Office of the Public Defender and the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois. Each attorney must complete hours of training each year provided both internally, by the Professional Development Division, and from national criminal defense organizations. Every Assistant Public Defender's first obligation is to the clients they represent.
The Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender employs investigators, mitigation specialists, case workers and support staff. Each person in the office has an important role to play in the representation of our clients. Investigators ensure that witnesses are located and interviewed, identify pro-defense witnesses and provide information that can be used to contest the truth and accuracy of the State's Attorney's case. They also serve subpoenas and court orders. Mitigation specialists and case workers provide client support in the form of social histories and finding services to give our clients what they need in order to function in their communities. They are dedicated to making sure that each client's dignity is respected. The members of the support staff make sure that each attorney has what he or she needs to represent our clients. They are the backbone of the office. Besides providing documents such as motions and petitions, they help to maintain files and supplies. They provide contact with clients and their families. They facilitate communication between the divisions and between attorneys, their clients, witnesses and members of the community at large.