update deskAntisemitism

Illinois public defender sues to display photo with gun, Israeli flag in office

"The photograph is a statement to remember that Jewish people have a right to defend themselves," per the complaint.

An assistant public defender in Cook County, Ill., is suing her employer for the right to display a photo of herself with a gun standing in front of an Israeli flag.

Debra Gassman, who has been a lawyer assigned to defendants who need representation for some 27 years, has displayed the 11-inch photo of herself in her office for nearly two decades, according to the complaint. It was taken while she served as a volunteer with the Israel Defense Forces.

“The photograph is a statement to remember that Jewish people have a right to defend themselves against the attempted exterminations that have occurred against them throughout history,” the complaint states.

Debra Gassman
Debra Gassman, assistant public defender in Cook County, Ill. Credit: Courtesy.

After Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attack, Gassman moved the photograph to the vicinity of employee mailboxes in the office “to raise awareness of what happened in Israel,” per the complaint. She placed it in an area “where other employees were allowed to put photos and decorations,” but she was ordered to remove it and reprimanded, the complaint alleges.

When Gassman returned the photo to her private office in the public defender’s office—in an independent county agency—she alleges that Parle Roe-Taylor, the deputy public defender, conducted an “unannounced and unprecedented” search of her office and confiscated it.

Gassman says that “deputies” at the office told her that displaying the photo “could provoke violence and was akin to displaying a Nazi swastika.”

Although employees are allowed to have “actual weapons in their offices (including guns and swords),” per the complaint, “Debra is not aware of any other CCPD employee ever being restricted from displaying a photograph of [sic] weapon. Other CCPD personnel have been permitted to display gun photos that did not include a picture of an Israeli flag.”

The complaint also includes a letter from Sharone Mitchell, the Cook County public defender, stating: “We understand that tragic world events likely motivated this display and may have compromised your judgment. We have considered this in our decision not to pursue any disciplinary action at this time.”

The complaint also includes examples of a photograph with a gun that has been displayed in the office and it alleges that a “senior supervisor of public defenders” emailed some 20 public defenders with a “(bad) joke” and an attachment of a photo, a still from “The Big Lebowski,” that included a gun.

The public defender’s office stated that it “remains committed to creating a safe workplace for all of our staff.”

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