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MLK Must Go

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Dear editor:

Congratulations to your reporter Steve Bogira, for his excellent writing in "A Law Abiding Judge" (March 5), an article about retiring judge Leo Holt.

Mr. Bogira's story makes two references to a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which now hangs in Judge Holt's courtroom at the Criminal Courts Building and was hanging in his courtroom at the Markham courthouse. The story quotes Judge Holt and a defendant that the portrait represents fairness in the judge's courtroom.

While Judge Holt's purpose in displaying the Dr. King portrait may be salutary, its display, or that of any other such portrait, including Harold Washington, Richard J. or Richard M. Daley, Jesus Christ, Moses, or Pope John Paul II, is forbidden by court order. In 1993 the Illinois Supreme Court entered an order adopting minimum courtroom standards. Standard 3.6 states in part, "No personal items of decoration shall be affixed to courtroom walls or in public view." The rationale for this standard is painfully obvious as suggested by the above examples.

Retiring or not, Judge Holt, or his superiors (Illinois Supreme Court, the chief judge of the circuit court of Cook County, or the presiding judge of the circuit court's criminal division), should remove the portrait.

Dennis Dohm

Oak Lawn

Steve Bogira replies:

The minimum courtroom standards Dennis Dohm refers to were devised in 1992 by a special Illinois Supreme Court committee chaired by Stephen Kernan, a veteran circuit judge from Belleville. "The intent was that a courtroom be maintained as a courtroom and not as somebody's personal office," Kernan says, regarding the precept concerning "personal items of decoration." He also says it was designed to promote an "impartial appearance" in courtrooms. The committee proposed enforcement measures--the worst being contempt of court charges--but the supreme court chose not to accept them. Thus the standards were adopted, Kernan says, as "suggestions, not requirements." Holt isn't the only judge in the Criminal Courts Building with a "personal item of decoration" in his courtroom. Seven large abstract prints brighten the courtroom of Judge James Linn. The U.S. Marine flag stands behind the bench of Judge Michael Toomin. "Spend Time With Your Kid Now and I Won't Have to Later," urges a sheriff's office poster on a wall of Judge Bertina Lampkin's courtroom.

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