SPRINGFIELD, IL (WBBM) — The recent abolishment of the death penalty in Illinois has also left some standing in the unemployment line.
Cheryl Bormann was elated last month when Gov. Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty in Illinois, even though she knew it likely meant the loss of her job.
Indeed, she and more than two dozen colleagues at the state appellate defender’s office who work on behalf of death row inmates will be laid off April 15.
“Everybody’s sort of in the same boat that I am: You did your job so well that you pushed yourself out of a job,” Bormann quipped shortly before a gathering in Chicago on Thursday to honor the work of the 28 employees soon to be unemployed.
Nine vacant positions also will be eliminated. In all, the cutbacks reduce the office staffing by about 13 percent. The staffers work in Chicago, Springfield and Belleville.
The bulk of the office’s work, though, is unaffected by the layoffs because most of its lawyers focus on noncapital cases.
The cutbacks are expected to save about $4.7 million a year in salaries and other costs, said State Appellate Defender Michael Pelletier.
“We save lives, but we lose jobs,” Pelletier said. “It is bittersweet, but overall, there’s a sense of relief” that the death penalty has been abolished, he said.
Those who are being laid off worked on death penalty cases at different stages in the legal process: offering assistance to defense lawyers during trials, providing representation to defendants during appeals before the state Supreme Court and working on post-conviction petitions and appeals for death row inmates.
The employees about to lose their jobs, from lawyers to secretaries, are trying to adjust as their life’s work comes to an end.
“I spent years saying I’d gladly give up my job to get rid of the death penalty, but when it actually happened, I was kind of more shaken up than I thought I would be,” said Charles M. Schiedel, 64, deputy defender of the office’s Supreme Court unit. “I’m not going to miss the death penalty, but I will really miss the people that I’ve worked with.”
Schiedel has worked for the appellate defender’s office since 1976 and planned to retire in June anyway. Arlene Montgomery, an administrative secretary for more than 28 years, also planned to retire this year but hoped to be shifted to another position for a few months before stepping down.
“It’s a double-edged sword, there’s no doubt about it,” said Montgomery, 56. “It was a team effort as a career to fight the cause for these indigent clients. We realized early on that some of them were innocent, and (we saw) the disparity in how their cases were treated.”
Bormann, 51, said she hopes to find work at a nonprofit that helps the poor navigate the legal system after her job as deputy defender of the capital trial assistance unit ends in two weeks. She’s confident she and her co-workers will find rewarding work, she said.
“The people who work for me will land in places where they can do good,” Bormann said.
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