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Friday, July 11, 2008 01:40 am

How the SAAP began

Expansion of rights for criminal defendants prompted Illinois prosecutors to seek parity

Untitled Document In the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a series of decisions that provided indigent defendants the means to appeal. In Illinois, the financial responsibility for these appeals (providing legal counsel and a free copy of the original trial transcript) fell to each county’s board. In 1970, a team of 15 idealistic young lawyers funded by a federal grant took over the job of handling appeals. One of them was Daniel Yuhas.
“We were all hippies, all counterculture types, but very dedicated, very left-wing, very committed to constitutional principles,” Yuhas says. “We were very professional, because we understood that throwing bombs was not the way to get relief for your client.”
 When their grant was due to run out, someone came up with the idea of turning this roving defense team into a state agency. The notion attracted support from unexpected allies — those county boards, eager to have someone else pick up the appeals tabs. Thus the Office of the State Appellate Defender, or OSAD, was born. A few years later, county prosecutors suddenly awash in legitimate, well-written appeals began lobbying the Legislature to create a parallel state agency to handle the task of defending all those appeals. That’s when the Office of the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutors, or SAAP, was established. Handling appeals is what the agency still spends most of its resources doing. SAAP has five offices across the state, each with about a dozen attorneys who specialize in researching and writing reply briefs. As members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, appellate attorneys earn starting salaries of about $42,000. The top ones get double that, according to Patrick Delfino, assistant director of the SAAP. OSAD attorneys start at about $47,000 and receive incremental raises laid out in a management plan, says Yuhas, now deputy state appellate defender. There are other mechanical differences between the two agencies: The OSAD is bigger, with about 100 attorneys in its Cook County office alone and another 100 or so scattered throughout the downstate area. The SAAP doesn’t have a Cook County office, because Cook County has its own appellate division. But the SAAP also provides other services, like training seminars, labor-dispute management, and hands-on assistance and immediate legal advice for state’s attorneys across the state. Delfino helped draft the legislation that created both agencies. So why did he curse his agency with the acronym SAAP? “It actually was the Illinois State’s Attorneys Association’s Comprehensive Project,” he says, “which evolved into the Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Service Commission, which then became . . . well, the answer is: We just lost that battle.”

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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