Cruse describes new bail reform law aimed at helping poor people, amidst criticism from Justice for Kane and radio host's racial slurs

By Ann Maher | Oct 9, 2018


Justice for Kane donates $7,386 to the St. Clair County Child Advocacy Center. At left is State's Attorney Brendan Kelly, the center's chair.  

The leader of a grassroots group seeking to oust St. Clair County Circuit Judge Zina Cruse from office in next month's election refutes claims that there's a racial component to the anti-retention effort. 

Lori Friess of Belleville, who formed Justice for Kane to raise awareness about child abuse and in protest of Cruse's order reducing bond for her grandson's alleged murderer, also said the group - which has grown close to 13,000 followers on Facebook - does not receive any funding from outside interests and is not under the influence of any politician or political party. 

"We don't need funding," Friess said in an interview on Tuesday. "The signs we pay for out of our own pockets."

Justice for Kane was formed in response to defendant Gyasi K. Campbell's ability to post bond after his bail was reduced from $1 million to $150,000 on April 2, allowing his release by posting a $15,000 cash bond pending trial in January. 


Judge Zina Cruse  

Two-year-old Kane Friess died in April 2017 of head trauma. Campbell was the boyfriend of the child's mother, Lindsey Friess - Lori Friess's daughter.

Friess said rumors surfaced recently that Justice for Kane had support from a racist organization, which she strongly denied. 

She said her group refers to Cruse as "monster judge," a moniker which she says in no way implies racism.

Among the 12,669 followers of Justice for Kane, there are people "of all different colors," Friess said. "We don't allow racist comments." 

With respect to negative comments made about Cruse by radio personality Bob Romanik, Friess said she is "not affiliated with that man," though her group had received a small amount of help from him in April. 

Romanik is known to use the "N" word profusely on air from his Belleville studio. In a broadcast aired on Tuesday he called Cruse a "greasy n*****" and referred to her as "ghetto gal," while discussing the Campbell case before Cruse. He also has spoken about women with whom he disagrees with politically in vile terms.

Friess said that she does not agree with Romanik's use of "that word." 

"There is no connection (with Justice for Kane)," she said. "I think he is horrible."

She said that her group has met politicians "along the way," and indeed, her followers include politicians and political groups, both Republican and Democrat, but that they have come to Justice for Kane, and not the other way around. 

The other side of the story

Cruse, one of three Black judges out of 25 in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, said that effective Jan. 1, 2018, Illinois judges presiding over criminal matters must abide by The Bail Reform Act of 2017, which in part addressed unfairness that poor people face in coming up with bail money pending trial. 

While Cruse did not specifically address the case against Campbell, she provided reasoning as to how a judge must rule in such a situation in a statement to the Record. In full, her statement reads:

"As a judge, as a woman, and as a mother, I am very concerned about child abuse in my community and elsewhere. I also understand people’s frustration when bail is set. I am aware of a local group which supports ending child abuse— a laudable goal with which all of us can agree. However, I deeply regret that some persons who are genuinely concerned about child abuse but nevertheless unfamiliar with the considerations required by our Illinois Supreme Court and Illinois statutes for setting bail in criminal cases have engaged in activities which have maligned and/or impeded the administration of justice. I hope that the following information will be a source of better understanding and perhaps be of assistance in re-evaluating such activities.

"Effective January 1, 2018, the Illinois criminal justice system, and Illinois judges in particular, faced the Illinois Bail Reform Act of 2017 (Act). This Act placed Illinois at the forefront of bail reform in the United States. The underlying message of our Illinois bail reform is that paying money for bail is unfair to poor people.

"Before trial is over, no Illinois judge, including myself, may take the position that an accused defendant is guilty of any charges or crimes. Under American criminal law, a bedrock principle is that a defendant is presumed innocent at every stage of his or her prosecution prior to the court or a jury finding him or her guilty, or prior to the defendant entering a plea of 'guilty.' This presumption of innocence also applies at the time monetary bail (and other bail conditions) are set for the defendant.  As a judge, when I consider setting bail, my decisions are not an indication of the defendant’s guilt or innocence. Illinois law requires that judges assess the likelihood of the defendant appearing for court, including trial. Judges consider the defendant’s past appearance history, and his or her felony criminal history. We judges rely on the arguments presented to us by the prosecutor and by defense counsel with regard to whether or not the defendant is a flight risk, that is a risk to not come to court.

"The Bail Reform Act of 2017 requires that a defendant be afforded the presumption of a non-monetary bail— the judge MUST consider releasing most defendants without a money bond. The Act also requires that the court consider other conditions of bond, also known as pretrial release, such as electronic home monitoring, curfews, and stay away orders, among many others.

"The statute separates criminal offenses into two categories: A and B. Category B offenses consist primarily of low-level offenses including non-violent and drug offenses. The presumption in favor of a personal recognizance bond (no money) is strong for Category B offenses. However, the Act also encourages the court to reconsider the conditions of bail for any defendant whose inability to post money bail is the only reason for his or her continued incarceration, including Category A cases, such as felony charges including Class 1, 2, X and even murder charges. 

"As your judge, I am all too aware that the 'wheels of justice' almost never spin quickly, and I know that can be very frustrating. We can only pray that justice, both man’s and a higher justice, be done, and be done fairly."

Friess said that she understands a need for reducing an individual's bond in certain situations, but that a judge should be taking into consideration the severity of the crime. 

"Someone (accused of) killing a baby... I don't understand 85 percent (reduction)," Friess said. 

She said that when the idea to organize got started, she had no idea that the group would grow to number near 13,000. 

"I knew I had to get his (Kane's) story out there... children get beaten and no one is standing up for these kids. I will," she said. 

Cruse, a Democrat, was first elected in 2012. She needs at least 60 percent voter approval to be retained. 

Campaign finance records at the State Board of Elections show that Cruse's campaign committee has received $5,500 in contributions so far for the entire campaign cycle - funds which were reported last week. 

Belleville attorney Thomas Q. Keefe, Jr. and his firm contributed $1,000 apiece; fellow circuit judge Robert Haida also contributed $1,000 and the Belleville firm Becker, Hoerner, Thompson & Ysursa - whose partner Kevin Hoerner is seeking a seat on the Fifth District Appellate Court - contributed $2,500. 

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