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Thursday, June 2, 2005 09:02 pm

A matter of respect

Eddie Washington

Rep. Eddie Washington, a freshman member of the Illinois General Assembly, is requesting a written apology from Sangamon County State’s Attorney’s office for what he describes as rude and unprofessional treatment after his May 16 court appearance.

Washington, a Democrat representing District 60, just north of Chicago, appeared in court on a traffic ticket charging him with following a Sangamon County sheriff’s deputy too closely. Another ticket issued at the same 1:30 a.m. traffic stop charged Washington with having his windows tinted too dark, but was dismissed when he presented a doctor’s order prescribing the tint for a vision problem. In court, Washington was found not guilty of the remaining charge.

The trouble began after the trial, when Washington went to the lower level of the courthouse to retrieve his AAA card. Washington and his staff assistant, Rene Corso, stepped into the same elevator as Molly Mack, the assistant state’s attorney Washington had just faced in the trial. A tense conversation begun in the elevator continued as they all disembarked into a public lobby.

“[Mack] was so loud, it embarrassed me,” Washington says. He decided to report this treatment to the state’s attorney.

“If she treats me this way and I’m in a beautiful suit and tie and I’m a lawmaker, I’m not going to walk out of this building and accept it,” Washington says.

“That means you’re treating everybody else like dogs.”

But when he got to the state’s attorney’s office, the tension escalated. Washington says he asked a clerk to write down the state’s attorney’s name, and was trying to recall Mack’s name when she walked in and said, “It’s Mack, like Mack Truck.”

In a three-page letter Washington sent to State’s Attorney John Schmidt, Washington describes the ensuing fracas as “a frenzy of hostile escalation similar to a lynch mob.” One employee, he says, told him: “We don’t care nothing about you being no state representative.”

Office employees pushed a button that summoned court security officers, including the same officer who had been present during Washington’s trial. The officers cleared the room, and Washington says he suddenly found himself alone, facing three armed men, and totally “unnerved.”

Just then, Lt. Jerry Durr, the deputy in charge of court security, arrived, and apparently defused the situation.

“I told everybody to go back to where they belonged so I could talk to Mr. Washington,” Durr says. “He told me his story, I listened, he shook my hand, thanked me, and left.”

Washington waited four days to write his letter, outlining his complaint. But as of June 1, he has received no response from Schmidt’s office.

“I have the letter and I will send him a letter,” Schmidt says, adding that he was busy with a trial last week. “I certainly believe our office acts professionally every day, and we always do and will continue to do so. That’s my quote for you.”

Mack recently left the state’s attorney’s office due to her husband’s employment in another state.

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