{{featured_button_text}}

Editor

Marc Chase is a veteran investigative reporter, columnist and editor of more than two decades. He currently leads The Times news staff as local news editor. He can be reached at 219-933-3327.

We all expect to see accused criminals in courtrooms.

It's also a reasonable expectation that those convicted of crimes shouldn't be hired to help run, administer or keep a criminal courtroom secure.

Apparently that's not so in at least one Lake County court.

Just when you believe your eyes can't roll any further into the back of your head, Lake County's propensity for patronage hiring creates new ocular feats of wonder.

This time it's in the Lake County Superior Courtroom of Judge Julie Cantrell.

According to county records, one of Cantrell's courtroom employees, Willie Askew Jr., is celebrating his one-year anniversary in the employment of the judge — and taxpayers.

Askew works as a bailiff in Cantrell's court — a position that maintains security over accused and convicted criminals, county officials and payroll records confirm.

His resume would seem to make him qualified. After all, he's a former East Chicago police officer.

However, sometimes it's what you don't put on your resume that raises the biggest red flags.

You see, much like many of the offenders who make their way through Cantrell's court, Askew has done time in prison, federal court records show.

In 2015, while working as an East Chicago cop, Askew was indicted in a much higher court of law — U.S. District Court in Hammond — for federal tax charges.

In 2017, he pleaded guilty to three counts of willful failure to file tax returns, bilking the federal government — and all of us, as a result — out of $38,686.

Askew was sentenced to three months in federal prison for the crimes.

As part of his plea agreement, he also admitted to another allegation, which he concluded in court documents that "the government can prove by a preponderance of the evidence."

In January 2012, Askew admitted in the plea agreement, he used his position as an East Chicago police officer to sign — under penalty of perjury — more than 50 documents asserting he had inspected watercraft or vehicles, "when in fact I knew that the forms were blank and that I did not physically inspect any such vehicles or watercraft."

In other words, Askew admitted setting the stage for a skirting of the law and using his position as a cop as the entry point.

Register for more free articles.
Stay logged in to skip the surveys.

By admitting to the scheme, federal prosecutors agreed not to bring charges beyond the tax-related misdemeanors to which Askew pleaded guilty, federal court records show.

Cantrell did not return calls from me late last week seeking comment about Askew's employment in her courtroom.

All county residents should be questioning the hiring.

Could Cantrell not find a qualified courtroom employee who hasn't been convicted of a federal crime — who hasn't admitted to abusing his role as a law enforcement officer and who hasn't served time in federal prison?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

And as many of my regular column readers know, this is far from the first time a public official has condoned the use of taxpayer-funded offices as employment halfway houses for convicted criminals.

The Askew case seems to take on more gravity than past incidents, however.

A disgraced former police officer who spent time in prison is now working as an officer of a county courtroom, the scope of which is to administer justice to convicted criminals.

Good luck holding Cantrell accountable for this hiring decision.

Cantrell is a Superior Court judge, who essentially holds her position for as long as she desires. Superior Court judges face a retention vote every six years, and Cantrell is due for such a vote in the 2020 election.

However, those judges don't face opponents and virtually always are retained by voters.

She also happens to be the daughter of federally convicted felon and former Lake County political fixer Bob Cantrell, who was found guilty in 2008 of illegally steering government contracts, and therefore taxpayer money, to a politically connected counseling service.

We all should believe in judging people on their own merits — not based on the transgressions of their parents or other family members.

But Judge Cantrell isn't doing much to separate herself from an embarrassing legacy by hiring Askew.

In the end, public trust is eroded yet again.

Local News Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 933-3327 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.

1
8
7
0
12