‘Name Game’ dominates county judicial contests


It is correct that many Cook County judges are conceived, not made or elected. The path to the bench begins in the womb, when the XX chromosomes prevail over the XY chromosomes and a girl is born.

The journey continues, provided the mother (or the parental unit) has an Irish surname, with a Mc or an O’ attaching to the girl, but a Burke, a Kelly or a Daley will suffice. Being named Maureen, Colleen, Eileen, Bridget, Shawn, Maura, Nora, Erin or Shannon helps. Then comes the easy part: Graduate from college. Graduate from law school. Get a job as an assistant state’s attorney, public defender, federal prosecutor or, in the worst case scenario, as a private attorney, but with a big firm with some influence.

Then schmooze with the bar associations and get a "qualified" rating. Find some clout-worthy Democratic sponsor, have $35,000 ready to donate to the county Democratic Party, spend months making the rounds of Democratic fundraisers, dropping $300 to $500 each night for tickets and, voila, you’re a judge. As they say: easy breezy.

You are Maureen O’Donoghue Hannon? You’re on the Circuit Court, unopposed.

You are Eileen O’Neill Burke? You’re on the Appellate Court, unopposed.

You are Sean Chaudhuri, an Indian American, an appointed Circuit Court judge and the slated Democrat, and your opponent is Carolyn J. Gallagher? Prepare yourself to go back to private practice. Well, maybe not, because you have five opponents, and slating could be critical.

You are Rossana Fernandez, a Hispanic, an appointed Circuit Court judge and the slated Democrat and your opponent is Tom McGuire? It’s over. Well, maybe not, because Scott Lipinski also is running, and when two men are running, the woman usually wins.

You are John Fitzgerald Lyke, and you are black. Nobody else filed. You’re on the bench.

You are Gerald Cleary, an appointed Circuit Court judge, but the slated candidate is Frederick Bates, also an appointed judge, and also running are two guys with wonderful Irish surnames, Patrick Powers and Kevin Cunningham? Gender is not a factor. What a mess.

You are Devlin Schoop, a black appointed Circuit Court judge and the slated Democrat, and your opponents are Mary Kathleen McHugh, Tom Courtney and Brian O’Hara? Well, you can win, since there are two Irish names too many.

Welcome to the Byzantine world of the Cook County judiciary, where judicial candidates’ surnames and gender eclipse qualifications and experience, where only Democrats are elected, where slating means victory in multi-candidate primaries, where Irish-surnamed females invariably beat males and women always win when facing two or more men, and where the political "Hail Mary" still works — which is a sneaky ploy to get men, and especially odd-surnamed men, on the bench. It occurs when a bunch of judges magically retire just before the end of the petition filing period, and candidates need to get 10,000 signatures in 14 to 21 days, which can only be done by Democratic committeemen. Three men will sneak onto the bench in that way in 2016.

There are two Appellate Court vacancies, 11 Circuit Court openings and about 15 Subcircuit spots to be filled in 2016. All the action is in the Democratic primary, and of the 13 slated countywide candidates, seven have Irish surnames and four of those are women. Of those 13, three are black and one is Hispanic.

There are 269 judges elected in Cook County, including three state Supreme Court justices, 24 1st District Appellate Court justices and 242 Circuit Court judges; there also are 138 appointed associate Circuit judges, who are named by the elected judges. The associates serve 4-year terms, are sponsored by some clout-worthy politician, usually have an unelectable ballot surname, and can be reappointed endlessly. When an elected Court Circuit or Appellate Court vacancy arises, one of the three Supreme Court justices name the replacement, who serves until the next election. Once that justice makes an appointment, then he or she "owns" that slot and will continue to make that Circuit or Subcircuit appointment until he or she leaves the High Court.

That’s why, for example, Justice Charles Freeman makes almost all the appointments in the black-majority Subcircuits and all replacements for retiring black elected judges. Who said justice is blind?

Justices earn $199,000 annually, Circuit Court judges earn $184,000, and associates earn $175,000. After 12 years they can retire with 85 percent of their salary and all health benefits for life. Those elected face countywide "retention" every 6 years after their first election, including Subcircuit judges. That means that they are listed on the November ballot and must get a 60 percent "retain" vote to say on the bench. There usually are 50 to 60 judges on each retention ballot, which makes anonymity obligatory. They can’t be controversial, which means no DUIs or domestic batteries. Voters don’t care about judicial rulings. Not a single judge has been not been retained in the past 10 elections.

Under judicial canons, a candidate for judge must be circumspect and self-effacing. He or she cannot promise to be "tough on crime" or to "enforce" gun laws. About the best platitude is "fair justice," whatever that means. Qualifications are helpful, as reflected in the rating of a dozen or more bar associations. About a quarter of voters actually care, but in many races, more than one candidate is "recommended," so it’s the proverbial pig in a poke: gender and surname prevail.

Most black voters don’t vote for European-sounding names, meaning those ending in a vowel, or for Hispanic names. Hispanics don’t vote in sufficient numbers. Most women vote for whichever woman is on the ballot. The Democratic Party mails out 400,000 sample ballots with all their endorsed candidates to Democratic households and provides 900,000 sample ballots to every ward and township Democratic organization. If turnout is low, the slate wins.

Any appointee to a Circuit Court vacancy must run for that post. Here’s an overview:

Appellate Court: Appointee/slated Bertina Lampkin, who is black, has solid support among black committeemen and from Toni Preckwinkle, and slated Circuit Court judge Eileen O’Neill Burke, a Northwest Sider, are unopposed

There are 11 countywide Circuit Court contests:

Biebel vacancy: Slated/appointee John Fitzgerald Lyke, an African American from Matteson, is unopposed. That middle name is magical.

Elrod vacancy: Slated/appointee Rossana Fernandez faces two men, former assistant state’s attorney Thomas Francis McGuire of Park Ridge and Scott Lipinski of Oak Lawn, the son of a former judge. Outlook: Slight edge to Fernandez.

Karnezis vacancy: Slated/appointee Devlin Schoop is black, and he gained fame when he resigned from the Boy Scouts due to their gay-prohibition policy. He faces Mary Kathleen McHugh, Brian O’Hara and Tom Courtney. That may be too many Irish names, and maybe too many men. Schoop will need a huge black vote. Outlook: Edge to McHugh.

Grussel vacancy: Once upon a time, the imprimatur of Rich Daley was heaven-sent. Now it’s poison. Slated/appointee Dan Duffy is the husband of longtime Daley chief of staff Sheila O’Grady, and he’s being sued for a loan guarantee for a French kitchenware store. Not good. Duffy has three foes, John Marszalek, William Wojcik and Monica Torres-Lineares. Outlook: Duffy is the only Irish candidate; he wins. Voters won’t make the Daley connection.

Howlett vacancy: Slated/appointee Aleksandra "Alex" Gillespie faces former assistant state’s attorney Thomas Maloney Cushing. Outlook: The Irish-surnamed woman wins.

Hogan vacancy: Ditto the above. Slated/appointee Alison Conlan faces Mike O’Malley, an assistant state’s attorney. Gender prevails.

Love vacancy: Can this be? An Irish guy who’s unopposed? Brendan O’Brien, a private attorney, is slated. Named to be a judge.

O’Brien vacancy: Slated/appointee Maureen O’Donoghue Hannon, a former assistant state’s attorney, is unopposed. No surprise. Ditto the above. Named to be a judge.

When the Democratic slatemakers met in August, they had eight countywide judgeships to fill, but they are sly. They slated "alternates," men who would get any spot a sitting judge conveniently quit just before the filing deadline. That meant getting 10,000 signatures real quickly.

Palmer vacancy: Private attorney Pat Heneghan was the number three "alternate," and he got this "Hail Mary" vacancy, unopposed.

Walsh vacancy: The Supreme Court appointed Gerald Cleary of Glencoe, who is white, to the vacancy, but the Democrats slated Frederick Bates, "alternative number one," of the South Side 6th Ward, who is black. Two white Irish-surnamed male attorneys, Patrick Powers of Forest Park and Kevin Patrick Cunningham of the 19th Ward, also filed. Outlook: Three Irish white candidates against a black candidate? Bates wins.

Johnson vacancy: Chaudhuri, a lawyer in private practice, is the Democrats’ 2016 judicial "poster boy," as they need to put some Asians on the bench. Indian Americans are a source of great wealth, and to reap that money, the Democrats need to put some of their group in visible office. Chaudhuri is an awful ballot name, obnoxious to minorities. Carolyn Gallagher, who was rejected by the slatemakers for any of the eight vacancies, filed against him, as did four others, Tom Courtney, Mark Lyon, Peter Martin Kramer and Greg LaPapa. That’s five men against an Irish-surnamed woman. Outlook: Gallagher wins.

Next week: Analysis of area judicial Subcircuit and Democratic ward committeeman races.

Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.