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Pay hike settled, issue of minority county state's attorneys comes up

Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

As Cook County state's attorneys got their pay raises approved Tuesday, a county board member seized on the moment to blast what he said was a low number of minority prosecutors.
Cook County Commissioner Bill Beavers, a Chicago Democrat, criticized State's Attorney Dick Devine for what Beavers said was a low rate of minority assistant state's attorneys.
There are 714 white assistant state's attorneys and 63 black attorneys. "What kind of parity is this with this county being 56 percent minority?" Beavers asked.
Devine said later his retention rate of black assistant state's attorneys, 7.2 percent, is above the 6 percent enrollment rate of black students in Illinois law schools.
And, pointed out Commissioner Mike Quigley, the office's recruitment from the last two graduating classes have been 45 percent and 36 percent minority, respectively.
"I think it's a disgrace that race has been brought into this," said Commissioner John Daley, brother of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Beavers contended that other government offices, which also suffer from an inability to pay lawyers private-industry rates, are able to recruit and retain higher percentages of minorities. Examples include the public defender's office, where blacks make up 49.5 percent, and the city of Chicago Law Department, with 12.2 percent minority, according to the publication Chicago Lawyer.
"We're not satisfied with what we have," conceded Devine. But he disagreed with the "rhetoric" that the office wasn't trying.
"Adrienne Mebane, our chief of staff ... has since 2003, when she was hired, made the outreach and the increase in minority participation in our office a priority," Devine said.
Mebane, who is black, said she, too, took offense to the accusation they weren't doing enough.
"It does hurt. I'm the one responsible for hiring right now," she said.
Meanwhile, Devine said he was pleased with the county board's action Tuesday regarding pay, which raised assistant state's attorneys' salaries roughly 8 percent, commensurate to what public defenders -- who are unionized unlike state's attorneys -- make.
The deal to pay the state's attorneys more was announced Monday. Cook County Board President Todd Stroger said the increase, along with raises for other non-union county workers, will likely require a tax increase next year, but he pledged the tax would not be a property tax.

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