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Rauner backs new legislation following WGN’s Drew Peterson report

CHICAGO -- A Republican State Representative has introduced a bill that would require inmates with financial resources to pay for their own defense if they're charged with committing a crime while behind bars. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner quickly said he supports the bill.

The legislation is in response to a WGN Investigates report that found Drew Peterson's court-appointed legal team charged Illinois taxpayers $264,000 to defend the former Bolingbrook cop. Peterson was convicted of plotting from prison to hire a hit man to kill Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow. Glasgow was the prosecutor who put Peterson in prison for killing his third wife Kathleen Savio.

"Taxpayers are on the hook too easily for inmate legal bills," Rauner said in a statement to WGN. "In a time when financial resources are tight across state government, there are better uses for the more than $200,000 the state is paying to defend Drew Peterson."

Peterson’s defense cost the Illinois Department of Corrections more than it has spent to defend an inmate in 18 years.

A Randolph County judge told WGN Investigates he decided to forego a public defender and appoint private counsel for Peterson because of the complexity of the case. However the judge said it's not his job to reign in the costs of private attorneys.

"If I were to tell the defense ‘you can’t spend any more,' then in fact I think it could be said later the defendant wasn’t given a fair trial," Judge Richard Brown said.

The new bill, sponsored by State Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Freeport, would require the Illinois Department of Corrections to pay for legal fees in similar cases only if it’s determined the inmate cannot afford a private attorney on his own.

The news release is below, it links to WGN's report and the bill:

Rauner, Lawmakers Move to Protect Taxpayers from Inmate Legal Bills

SPRINGFIELD - Governor Bruce Rauner announced today his support for a bill that would help ease the burden the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and taxpayers by taking into account an inmate’s ability to pay for a private attorney. As a WGN investigation noted, state taxpayers paid to the attorney and investigator fees to defend convicted murderer Drew Peterson in his murder-for-hire trial.

"Taxpayers are on the hook too easily for inmate legal bills," Governor Rauner said. "In a time when financial resources are tight across state government, there are better uses for the more than $200,000 the state is paying to defend Drew Peterson. This common-sense proposal protects taxpayers."

A new bill, sponsored by State Rep. Brian Stewart (R-Freeport), would require IDOC to pay for legal fees only if it’s determined the person cannot afford a private attorney and is eligible for the public defender. If the court appointed a private attorney to represent the defendant because the public defender if not able to take on the case, IDOC will only pay if the inmate is financially unable to do so.

"Illinois taxpayers are paying for Drew Peterson's plan to have the Will County States Attorney killed," said IDOC Assistant Director Gladyse Taylor. "Illinois law requires the Department pay the nearly $265,000 in legal fees that Peterson raked up in the case. That is in addition to the thousands of dollars in defense fees the Department pays for other offenders who commit crimes while incarcerated. This money could be better spent on programs and services that reduce recidivism and ensure offenders are more prepared to return to society when they leave our custody."

The bill is HB 3555.