Stroger announces choice to be new public defender
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by John Flynn Rooney
Cook County Board President Todd H. Stroger has nominated veteran Cook County Associate Judge Abishi C. Cunningham to serve as the county's next chief public defender through March 2015.
Cunningham, who is known as ''A.C.,'' would replace Edwin A. Burnette, the county's public defender since 2003. Burnette's term expires on March 31.
Last year, Stroger mounted an attempt to fire Burnette and then dropped
the plan in May. But a legal dispute involving Stroger and Burnette
over who has the authority to hire and fire employees in the public
defender's office remains pending in the 1st District Appellate Court.
Cunningham, 61, has served on the Cook County bench since 1986 and is
currently assigned to the Law Division's Trial Section. A native of
Welch, W.Va., Cunningham graduated from Northwestern University School
of Law in 1972 and initially worked as a legal assistant for what is
now the State Board of Education. He could not be reached for comment
early Wednesday afternoon.
Cunningham also worked as a prosecutor, a defense lawyer and private
practitioner. He also has served as a supervising attorney in the
now-defunct criminal defense consortium, an alternative to the public
defender's office. He followed that with a brief stint in private
practice before rejoining the Cook County state's attorney's office,
where he rose to chief in the 1st Municipal District.
In a letter to Cook County commissioners that bore Tuesday's date,
Stroger cited Cunningham's ''extensive legal and administrative
experience that will be an asset in the administration of the Cook
County public defender's office.''
Stroger's nomination of Cunningham was placed on the agenda for
Wednesday's County Board meeting. At that meeting, Commissioner Lawrence J. Suffredin Jr.
said that Stroger's nomination must be considered at a public hearing
before the board's Legislation, Intergovernmental Relations and
Veterans Committee, which he chairs.
That committee meeting will
take place before the County Board's next regularly scheduled meeting
on March 17, according to Suffredin. Cunningham's selection as public
defender must receive the consent of the County Board members, he added.
Suffredin said he handled cases against Cunningham in the 1970s and called him a great lawyer and good judge.
''I'm disappointed [Stroger] didn't reappoint Ed Burnette,'' Suffredin
said. ''But the people of Cook County will be well served by A.C.
Burnette said he has met Cunningham in social situations but doesn't know him well.
''If [Cunningham] is selected, I will do everything [possible] to
assist in a smooth transition,'' said Burnette, who has worked in the
public defender's office since 1987, including a stint as first
assistant. ''In my view, the work is more important that one individual
and the work must go on.''
Nearly two weeks ago, the Chicago Council of Lawyers had called upon
Stroger and County Board members to appoint a 15-member selection
committee to conduct a search and identify appropriate candidates to
fill the post.
The Council issued a written statement Wednesday saying its members look forward to working with Cunningham.
''But the Council is concerned that the position of public defender was
filled without a public process,'' the statement added. ''We believe
that transparent and reform-minded government demands that the
selection process for the public defender requires a nationwide search
and formal appointment process.''