Attorney says Mc Henry County avoiding Muslim jurors

By Charles Keeshan
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Friday, June 02, 2006
The family of an Algerian national suing the McHenry
County sheriff’s office over her jailhouse suicide
last year are accusing the county of trying to move
the case out of Chicago to avoid dealing with Muslim
or Arab jurors.

In court papers filed in U.S. District Court this
week, the family’s lawyer, Janine Hoft, claims county
attorneys want the case moved to Rockford where they
would be less likely to deal with a racially and
ethnically mixed jury.

“Transferring this case would change the jury pool to
the detriment of the plaintiff,” Hoft said. “The
defendant’s motion amounts to forum shopping to avoid
a more diverse jury pool.”

The charge comes after the McHenry County state’s
attorney’s office last month asked that the lawsuit on
behalf of Hassiba Belbachir be moved from Chicago to

Belbachir, 27, died March 17, 2005, after jail staff
found her in her cell with two socks tied tightly
around her throat. A McHenry County coroner’s jury
ruled the death a suicide.

At the time, Belbachir was in custody on a hold from
the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customers
Enforcement on accusations she was using a stolen
passport. Her family’s lawsuit alleges jail staff knew
she was under great emotional distress behind bars but
did nothing to prevent her suicide.

The county argues that the move to Rockford makes
sense because nearly all the parties and witnesses in
the case, including correctional officers and jail
medical staff, live in McHenry County. Travel time
could range from 30 to 50 minutes to Rockford for most
participants, compared to two hours to the Chicago

And federal cases generated in the county fall under
the jurisdiction of judges in Rockford, the county

Hoft, however, alleges the county is trying to avoid
Muslim and Arab jurors, who are far more likely to be
found in Chicago. Her response cites studies showing
that about 60,000 Muslims live in Cook County compared
to only about 1,000 in the Rockford area.

McHenry County State’s Attorney Louis Bianchi brushed
aside the allegations Thursday, saying those issues
have nothing to do with the request to move the case.

“They’ve failed to respond in any meaningful way to
the law involving a change of venue,” Bianchi said.
“The death happened here, the jail is here, almost all
the witnesses are here and all the sheriff’s people
are out here,” Bianchi said. “It makes sense for the
case to be heard out here.”

A judge is expected to rule on the county’s request
June 9.


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