Candidates clog races to get lucrative judgeships
by RUSS STEWART
A slew of Cook County "Honorables" are seeking the 39 judgeships on the 2018 Democratic primary ballot, ten of which will be chosen countywide, and 29 in the 15 subcircuits.
The joy of being a judge is that everybody, including lawyers, must be obsequious (which, in my experience, can be really difficult) to them, and must address them as "Your Honor," and stand up when they enter the courtroom. They are presumed to be worthy of being respected, of having character and integrity, at least until proven otherwise. That is different from non-judicial officeholders, who are the opposite.
However, the true ecstasy of being one of the county’s 399 judges, in addition to the prestige, lies in the fact that elected Circuit Court judges earn $190,000 annually (and appointed associate judges $180,000), receive five weeks’ paid vacation, and get 10 to 12 more days off since the courts are closed on at least a dozen state and federal holidays. Of the 260 annual weekly workdays, a judge needs only to show up on about 225. Add to that the family-package health insurance and the pension benefits, which vest at 80 percent of salary for life at 20 years (or a lesser amount if fewer years), and permanent job security, even if slothful, misguided or misinformed.
Also, the workload is increasingly light, maybe 2 hours on the morning call, another hour on the afternoon call. Foreclosures from the 2006-08 recession, handled by the Chancery Division, have run their course. Tort actions have dwindled, as plaintiffs realized that they are not going to collect on their judgments. Even Traffic Court’s caseload has diminished, as cops are busy handling major felonies to effect traffic stops.
Once elected – and, in Cook County, except in the northwest suburban 12th and 13th subcircuits, Democratic nomination is tantamount to election – the judge goes on the countywide retention ballot every 6 years, even those from the localized subcircuits. Those seeking retention are never defeated, as voters most of the time have no clue as to the character or competence of the 60-plus candidates on which they must vote "Yes" or "No." Every judge who gets 60 percent stays for another 6 years.
At present, 157 judges are elected from the subcircuits, 104 countywide, and the remaining 138 are associate judges are appointed to 4-year terms by the elected judges, which means some lawyer with clout somewhere with some special interest or some politician. Any Circuit Court vacancies are filled by the Illinois Supreme Court’s three 1st District (Cook County) justices, all Democrats, and the appointees serve until the next election. The associates serve interminably, getting re-appointed interminably or as long as their "clout" stays clout worthy. Every judge eyes the "Big 20,’ when they can bail and make some big bucks with some big law firm.
It takes some spectacularly egregious personal misconduct to get booted from the bench. Most recently, Judge Valarie Turner, elected from the South Side 2nd subcircuit, was forced to retire by the state Supreme Court because she let law clerk Rhonda Crawford handle her traffic court call. Crawford then went on in 2016 to win unopposed another 1st District vacancy, but was never seated.
There are two ironclad Democratic Party rules: First, be approved by the bar associations. Second, donate $40,000 to the party, which pays for being included on a pre-primary sample ballot which is disseminated by all 80 ward and township Democratic committeemen.
The vast majority of 2018 judicial candidates are already in the system, either as assistant state’s attorneys (ASA), the courtroom prosecutors, or as public defenders (PD), government-paid lawyers who defend the needy. The ASA and PD acronyms are used below.
The filing deadlines have passed, but nominating petition challenges are still pending, for causes ranging from insufficient signatures or legal issues. Those challenged may not be on the March 20 ballot.
BREWER VACANCY: Appointed judge Oren Whiting was slated. PD Kathryn Maloney Vahey, ASA John Maher, and Lisa Copland oppose him. The latter two are being challenged. Outlook: Vahey wins easily.
CLAY VACANCY: The slated candidate is Jonathan Clark Green, a Chicago corporation counsel who heads the Monnel claims division, which defends the city in federal court against damages for police officers found liable of misconduct. He is opposed by ASA Kathleen Theresa Lanahan, whose husband is the supervising ASA in Maywood, PD Mary Lopez, ASA Mike O’Malley, who lost in 2016, and PD Lori Roper. Lopez is being challenged. Outlook: Lanahan is favored, but Green, with support in the Jewish community and from police groups, is very competitive but O’Malley will drain votes from him. If it was just Green-O’Malley, without Lanahan, O’Malley would win.
FLANAGAN VACANCY: Appointed Judge Preston Jones Jr. was slated, and caught a break with two Irish-surnamed women opposing him: ASA Amanda Moira Pillsbury and Keely Patricia Hillison; a third woman is Ioana Salajanu. Pillsbury is being challenged. Outlook: If Pillsbury is knocked off the ballot, Hillison wins; if not, Jones has a chance.
HARTIGAN VACANCY: Appointed Judge Cecelia Horan, former chairwoman of the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago, was slated and is opposed by defense attorney Keith Spence, who is being challenged. Outlook: Horan is a cinch.
JORDAN VACANCY: Appointed Judge Clare Quish was slated, and is opposed by PD Jerry Barrido, and criminal defense attorney Patrick Dankwa John, who lost a 2016 subcircuit race, and is being challenged. Outlook: Quish will win big.
McGINNIS VACANCY: Something strange happened here. There are only men running. Appointed judge Peter Gonzalez was slated, and is opposed by ASA Brian Sexton, South Side lawyer Marcellus Moore, and Bradley Trowbridge. Outlook: Sexton will score a narrow victory.
ROONEY VACANCY: Slated civil attorney Jack Hagerty may be unopposed, as his female opponents are being challenged. Amee Alonso has already withdrawn, leaving attorney Mable Taylor as his only potential foe. Outlook: Hagerty will win even if Taylor stays on the ballot.
Three judges conveniently retired after the commencement of the circulatory period, creating three additional vacancies, for which "alternates" had already been slated.
EGAN VACANCY: Rosa Silva, a public defender, and member of the task force investigating past murder convictions, is unopposed. She had solid backing from Hispanic politicians, and nobody had the time or incentive to get the signatures to oppose her.
DOOLING VACANCY: Serving up thousands of cheeseburgers, frothy beer mugs and donating thousands of dollars to worthy Democrats over the years should be the slated Tom Sam Sianis’s ticket to the bench. Or maybe not. The candidate’s family owns the Billy Goat Tavern franchise, and the candidate is a top legal aide to Secretary of State Jesse White, who will push to deliver the black vote. His two opponents – both being challenged – are PD Tim Leeming, husband of a judge, and Corrie Diane Fetman, a former Playboy model-turned-divorce lawyer, who briefly wrote a "Love Lawyer" column in the online version of the magazine and had outdoor ads showing seductive bodies and proclaiming: "Be happy. Get a divorce." Both Leeming and Fetman are being challenged. Outlook: If it ends up a Sianis-Fetmen race, Sianis could lose.
DUNFORD VACANCY: The best opponent is no opponent, and that will be ASA Tom McGuire’s ticket to the bench. He has no opponent.
10TH SUBCIRCUIT: There are two vacancies in this subcircuit, which extends from Western Avenue in the 47th Ward west to Park Ridge, north of Lawrence Avenue. The slated candidate for the Suriano vacancy is former ASA Colleen Reardon Daly, now a private attorney, who is backed by most committeemen in the district. Her principal opponent is appointed Judge Gerald Cleary. He was appointed countywide judge in 2015, lost in 2016, but was thereafter appointed to the 10th subcircuit vacancy. Two other Irish-surnamed females are running, Noreen Patricia Connolly and Jill Rose Quinn, along with Thomas Gabryszewski. According to sources, both Connolly and Quinn are "shills" for Cleary, put on the ballot to divert votes from Daly. Challenges are pending against Connolly, Quinn and Gabryszewski. Outlook: Daly will win.
BURKE VACANCY: Appointed Judge Stephanie Saltouros, a former ASA, is the slated candidate, as she was in 2016. She withdrew from that race, and was appointed judge when Burke got elected to the Appellate Court. She has two opponents: ASA Lorraine Murphy and Gwyn Ward-Brown, who is being challenged. Outlook: In a race between two females, one Irish-surnamed, Saltouros has a problem.
6TH SUBCIRCUIT: Encompassing the north side Hispanic, mostly Puerto Rican wards, and gentrifying areas around Logan Square, three vacancies have arisen, and the Democratic committeemen have been vacillating, first slating and then voiding it. For the Chevere vacancy, appointed Judge Kent Delgado faces former ASA David Herrera, who got laid off when the soda tax was repealed, and Sean Kelly, a DuPage County ASA. For the Cepero vacancy, appointed judge Stephanie Miller faces PD Linda Perez. And for the Cooke vacancy, appointed Judge Charles Beach faces civil attorney Ed Underhill, who lost in 2016, and PD Andrea Michelle Webber. With no slating, it all depends upon which committeeman delivers for whom.
Send an e-mail to russ@russstew art.com or visit his Web site at www.russstewart.com.