dispense justice. In Cook County, Alderman Ed
Burke and his Democratic judicial slatemaking
committee dispense judgeships.
ambitious lawyers who aspire to $169,555-a year
lifetime sinecures on the Circuit Court, ambitious
judges who seek elevation to the $184,774-a year
Appellate Court, or even for ambitious Appellate
Court justices who covet the judicial pinnacle of
the $196,322-a year Illinois Supreme Court, the
proverbial yellow brick road leads first through
bad news: Slating doesn't guarantee nomination. Of
course, if you're Anne Burke, the alderman's wife,
and you get slated for the Supreme Court,
opposition tends to disappear. However, in the
2010 Democratic primary, slated candidates lost
two of three Appellate Court nominations and two
of six county Circuit Court nominations. Only half
of the winners in judicial subcircuits were backed
by local Democratic organizations. In prior
primaries, the "slate" has won barely
half the races.
aren't any (Democratic) precinct armies
anymore," observed Mike Tierney, a city
plumber who has carved out a lucrative niche for
himself as the so-called "judge maker."
He guides potential candidates through the
labyrinth of slating, scheduling, endorsements and
petitions. Tierney said that slating is less
important than race, ethnicity, gender, ballot
position, and labor union, bar association and
newspaper backing. "Unions are the key,"
a new law, petition requirements for judicial
candidates rose from 500 signatures to 1,000
signatures, and candidates can no longer file in
multiple races. In the past they could file in
several races, and they had 14 days to withdraw
from all but one race, and adequate time to scope
the opposition. Women won many Democratic
primaries through multiple filing and then working
to be the sole female candidate in a contest with
also is a factor. Black voters supply half of the
countywide Democratic vote. A candidate on the
"black ballot" has an edge. In 2006 the
black vote propelled the nonslated Appellate Court
black candidate, Joy Cunningham, over the slated
white candidate, David Erickson, by a 510-vote
an early analysis:
Court: Unlike any other state, Illinois elects
justices by districts, not statewide. This ensures
Democratic dominance of the court, and it clearly
violates federal one person/one vote mandates.
of the seven justices are elected from Cook
County, and all are Democrats. Once elected, they
serve 10-year terms, then stand for retention. The
Democrats have a 4-3 majority on the court.
to the 2000 census, the 1st District (Cook County)
had a population of 3,978,922 and elected three
justices, or 1,326,307 voters per justice. The 2nd
District, including DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake
and McHenry counties and stretching to Iowa, had a
population of 2,052,546, and it elected Republican
Bob Thomas in 2000. The 3rd District, running from
Kankakee to Rock Island, had a population of
1,188,714, and it elected Democrat Tom Kilbride in
2000. The 4th District, which runs from Champaign
to Quincy, including Springfield, had a population
of 975,494, and it elected Republican Rita Garman
in 2002. The 5th District, which covers all of
Southern Illinois, had a population of 978,155,
and it elected Republican Lloyd Karmeier in 2004.
This unequal population violates federal law.
Cook County justices are Charles Freeman, an
African American who was first elected in 1990,
Burke, who was elected in 2008, and appointed
Justice Mary Jane Theis, an Appellate Court
justice who replaced Thomas Fitzgerald this year,
for the term expiring in 2020; she must run in
of the Supreme Court is critical for the
Democrats. Issues regarding labor, medical
malpractice, tort reform, and state and
congressional remaps are addressed by the court.
Their 4-3 majority gives them great reassurance.
2012 primary for Fitzgerald's seat is already wild
and wooly. Theis will be the slated candidate, but
at least two Appellate Court justices are running.
Joy Cunningham, who won an upset in 2006, is
positioning herself as the "black
ballot" candidate, solidifying support among
black city and county committeemen. Aurie Pucinski,
the daughter of the late 41st Ward alderman, who
was elected to the Appellate Court in 2010, is a
contender, and she has broad name recognition
dating from her tenure as the clerk of the Circuit
Court from 1988 to 2000.
Rogers Jr., a Board of Review commissioner, is in
a pondering stage, but his candidacy would split
the black vote and doom Cunningham. So, too, would
the candidacy of chief Circuit Court Judge Tim
Evans, a former South Side alderman and a 1989
mayoral contender, who recently kept his post by a
169-70 vote of the judges. Bob Clifford, whose
firm is the county's preeminent plaintiff's
personal injury gladiator, is the wild card. He
could readily self-fund and spend $3 million.
and gender are paramount. Two black candidates
would ensure the nomination of a white candidate;
one black candidate would defeat the field.
Contrarily, one male candidate could defeat a
field of three women.
the slated candidate, won the 2000 primary by just
20,390 votes over a black judge and onetime
alderman, with two white candidates siphoning off
votes. The Democratic "establishment"
cannot tolerate an "untrustworthy"
justice, which rules out Pucinski, an opportunist
who switched parties in 1998 and then switched
back, Cunningham, an independent, and Clifford,
who would be anti-tort reform but not necessarily
a Democratic tool. In 1976 rich trial lawyer James
Dooley scored a huge upset over insider Joseph
Power, Mayor Richard J. Daley's personal attorney,
in the primary.
outlook: Theis can get ready to return to the
Appellate Court. Cunningham wins if she's the only
black candidate. Clifford wins if he spends $3
million. Pucinski wins if Rogers runs and Clifford
Court: Unlike the Circuit Court, where judges have
to daily listen to inane, insipid and incredible
verbiage from litigants and lawyers, the 24
Appellate Court justices simply review the lower
courts' decisions, deciding if the judge ruled
contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence.
They exist in a surreal and elite world where
clerks do the research, and, as part of their
four-judge "division," they decide by a
majority vote whether some Circuit Court judge
Appellate Court justices serve pursuant to Supreme
Court appointment, and one or two elected justices
may retire. That means up to 10 spots will be
available, precipitating a Circuit Court stampede.
Judges can run for a higher court without
resigning their position.
Maureen Connors, Nathaniel Howse and Terrence
Lavin will be slated. Appointees Rudolfo Garcia,
Bertina Lampkin, Sheldon Harris, Marcus Salone and
David Sterba must fend for themselves. Howse and
Lampkin are black. Connors has connections with
the Southwest Side 11th, 13th and 14th wards
(meaning Madigan and Burke). Lavin, a personal
injury lawyer and a party fund-raiser, leapfrogged
over the Circuit Court due to Burke's clout.
mad scrimmage will occur. Circuit Court Judges
John Kirby (of the 11th Ward) and Patrick Sherlock
(of the 19th Ward) are running and will be slated.
Claudia Conlon, a former judge whose husband is
Lisa Madigan's consultant, also is running. So are
Judges Jim McGing and Clare McWilliams, from the
Northwest Side 10th Subcircuit. Another dozen
judges will toss in their robes, with a black
judge filing in every race. Expect at least four
Hispanic judges -- Raul Vega, Edmund Ponce de
Leon, David Delgado and Gloria Chevere -- to file.
who wins? The scrambling will be fast and furious
as contenders try to be the only black, Hispanic,
female or Irish-surnamed candidate in the race.
Voters only abstractly care who's on the bench.
The 280 elected Circuit Court judges and the 145
appointed associate judges make decisions that are
reviewed by the 24 Appellate and seven Supreme
Court justices. So what?
Court: At least eight judges will be elected in
2012. A total of 121 judges are elected
countywide, and 159 are elected from the 15
subcircuits. Circuit Court appointees Tom Allen
(the former 38th Ward alderman), James Murray,
David Adams and Russ Hartigan must run to stay on
the bench. Unless they are elected, their
appointments will lapse.
will run in the 11th Subcircuit. In the 10th
Subcircuit, appointee Anthony Kyriakopoulos has no
chance of beating an Irish-surnamed foe. In the
Lakefront 8th District, six appointed judges will
seek four ballot spots. Only appointee Laura Liu,
the wife of former Mike Madigan attorney Mike
Kasper, is favored.
bottom line: With pleasant working conditions, no
heavy lifting, limited working hours, plenty of
vacation and holiday time, a hefty pension, and no
possibility of losing on the retention ballot, a
judgeship is a lawyer's heaven. Unfortunately, the
"Battle for the Bench" takes a lot of
time, money and sheer luck to prevail.