CHICAGO (WBBM) — The Cook County Public Defender’s office is worried that budget cuts proposed by new Board President Toni Preckwinkle will prove devastating for poor defendants.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Craig Dellimore Reports

Talk of budget cuts has Public Defender—and former judge—Abishi Cunningham very worried. He’s got 500 lawyers handing the cases of defendants at all levels–people too poor to afford attorneys.

Cunningham says if his office is forced to make the same 21 percent budget cuts as other countywide departments, it may mean laying off some 130 of its 500 attorneys.

Kendall Hill, Deputy Public Defender for Criminal Operations, says that would be devastating. Judges might have to appoint private attorneys, at higher cost. Trials would be delayed and pretrial detentions lengthened.

And, while Cunningham agrees other department heads will make the case against cuts to their budgets, he points out public defenders are constitutionally mandated.