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Courtroom 302 By Steve Bogira (Knopf, 403 pages, $25) Journalists who desire to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth usually are unable to do so. As outsiders, journalists almost never pierce the inner sanctums of the institutions they cover, especially in the judicial branch of government. The insiders, on the other hand, often know the whole truth, but lack the incentive to share it with the general public. Steve Bogira, a Chicago journalist, found a way to become an insider at the criminal courts building downtown. His method? Persuade a judge � in this instance Daniel Locallo � to let him hang around a courtroom and other normally off-limit areas of Chicago’s Cook County Criminal Courthouse for a year, watching and listening and asking questions of defendants, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police officers, bailiffs, clerks, jurors � and the judge himself. The result is Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse � a book so insider-ish, so candid, that it will shock, awe, and generally stick in the mind for a long time. Here are defendants quietly admitting their guilt or loudly proclaiming their innocence (sometimes convincingly) to Bogira. Here are prosecutors discussing their zealousness to convict, then refusing to admit their erroneous assumptions when valid questions arise about the guilt of the defendants. Here are defense lawyers, some parading their considerable skills on behalf of the accused, others trying to hide their incompetence or lack of interest in getting the best deal for their clients. Here are police officers who routinely lie to help win convictions of men and women they consider vermin, no matter how disadvantaged those defendants have been in life. Most memorably, here is Judge Locallo, talking candidly about case after case, demonstrating the wondrous complexity of human beings as he sounds like a paragon of virtue one moment; a cynical, all-powerful arbiter of life and death the next. Bogira generally eschews the high-profile cases. As he notes, “Recent reporting about criminal justice has focused heavily on two important issues � the death penalty and the conviction of defendants later proven innocent. Death penalty cases are rare, however, and even though DNA technology has proven that innocent defendants are convicted more often than once believed, such blatant miscarriages of justice are also unusual. This book intends to show more of what’s typical about a courtroom. It is about how justice miscarries every day, by doing precisely what we ask it to.” As Bogira’s immersion demonstrates to him, and eventually to his readers, the miscarriages of justice arise largely from an overloaded, overwhelmed system, not from malice or incompetence. Those legislators and executive branch bureaucrats who allocate money for the criminal justice machine in thousands of jurisdictions have chosen to pay for too few judges, too few prosecutors, too few public defenders, and too few probation and parole officers. Police keep catching so many alleged and actual perpetrators that they cannot be processed in a timely fashion unless the courtroom operates like a factory. VOLUME, VOLUME, VOLUME The miscarriages of justice explored by Bogira almost always arise because of an overwhelming volume of cases. Locallo is fanatical � almost certainly to an extreme among judges � about keeping the cases assigned to him moving. He hates backlogs and, thus, pressures defendants as well as their lawyers to cut a deal and avoid trial. If a trial must be held, Locallo pushes for a bench trial rather than the far-more-complicated and time-consuming jury trial. Defense lawyers who know Locallo understand that if they insist on a jury trial and the verdict comes back guilty, the judge will probably impose a “tax” of a heavier than normal prison sentence because the defendant took so much of his time. And prosecutors who push for jury trials because they want the publicity might face a rough time when it comes to rulings in future cases if they anger Locallo. Locallo’s preferences must be coming through clearly. Bogira learns that in a recent year, Locallo presided over 15 jury trials, 88 bench trials, and took 805 guilty pleas. The book is organized in part chronologically, as Bogira’s year of untrammeled access ticks away, and in part thematically. The thematic sections include the role of racial prejudice within the system; the extra pressures generated by high-profile crimes (Locallo calls such cases “heaters”); the political gamesmanship of prosecutors who want to be appointed to the bench and judges who want to be appointed to a higher court; prosecutorial misconduct; police misconduct overlooked by prosecutors and judges; the conundrums of false confessions; the ways public defenders wrestle with their caseloads while trying to provide adequate representation; and the eternal difficulties of handling mentally retarded defendants so that justice is served compassionately. STAR OF THE SHOW Locallo is at center stage most of the time, and he never seems boring. Among the supporting cast, one of the most compelling is Locallo’s father, a retired Chicago police officer regularly reminding his son not to take the word of police officers � even when given under oath � as truth. While a police officer, August Locallo enjoyed testifying in trials, unlike many of his colleagues who hated waiting around the courthouse as cases jerked forward unpredictably. The elder Locallo would think “about the traps the defense lawyer would likely set for him on cross[-examination], and how he could evade them,” Bogira reports. “As a result, he usually was an effective witness for the state. But he wouldn’t stretch his testimony to help prosecutors win, he says.” August Locallo tells Bogira, “I used to take great pride in putting someone in the penitentiary. But I think I took greater pride in keeping someone out who didn’t deserve to go.” August Locallo warned his son, Bogira reports, “that police would falsify their testimony in drug cases when they’d found the drugs after an illegal search.” He confides in Bogira, “I told him, Danny, when these police testify that they saw a suspect walking down the street and he dropped the package, it’s usually bullshit. You can catch a guy seven days a week by just saying he dropped it.” Judge Locallo has also learned from his father that the “reliable informant” cited in a request for a search warrant “often isn’t as reliable as the officer claims � if the informant exists at all.” Such serious allegations are almost always illustrated with examples culled from Bogira’s information-gathering. Here is a poignant example, taken from Locallo’s service as a prosecutor before winning an appointment to the bench at age 33:
In 1979, Locallo prosecuted a teacher and part-time musician who’d been charged with drug possession. Executing a search warrant, police had found cocaine and marijuana in the teacher’s South Side motel room. In a preliminary hearing the teacher’s lawyer asserted that the affidavit submitted to a judge by a police officer to secure the warrant had been a “total fabrication.” In the affidavit the officer had maintained that a “reliable informant” had told him he’d bought $50 of marijuana from the defendant in his motel room at 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 17, 1978, and that he’d seen more marijuana in the room. But at the time in question, the defendant had been playing saxophone in a band that was performing at a South Side lounge, according to affidavits from the bandleader, the owner of the lounge and a waitress at the lounge. The officer had also sworn in his affidavit that his informant had given him information leading to arrests in seven other drug cases in the previous year. When Judge Kenneth Wendt asked the officer to identify the seven cases, the officer was unable to do so. Wendt granted the motion to quash the search warrant and the evidence resulting from it.

Wendt also told Locallo, who was then a prosecutor, that he disliked being conned by law enforcement personnel. As a result of such experiences, Locallo tells Bogira, he now “quizzes police officers carefully when they come to his courtroom seeking his signature on a search warrant. The search of a person’s home is a serious matter, the judge says, and he wants to feel confident he’s not authorizing it based on a perjured affidavit.” Bogira likes Locallo, and has good reason to believe that the judge is more vigilant looking into the state’s case than many other judges. Still, Bogira is not hesitant to portray Locallo in a negative light when it seems justified. In fact, Bogira recounts several cases throughout the book in which Locallo seems to give more credibility to police testimony than might be warranted. Judge Locallo’s strengths and weaknesses are a poignant reminder not only that those on the bench are fallible human beings, but also that so much of how fairly or unfairly a defendant is treated depends on which judge is assigned to his or her case. So much in Courtroom 302 is revelatory that the revelations cannot even be summarized adequately in a book review of normal length. Thus, for readers of this review, there is only one solution: Get hold of this important, compelling book, and prepare yourself to be shocked and awed. Steve Weinberg is a freelance journalist who has been writing about the criminal justice system since 1968.

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