December 28, 2011


Justice is supposed to be blind. Unfortunately, so are the voters who elect the judges who dispense that "justice."

Unlike in a commercial transaction, one cannot kick tires, compare prices or get a warranty when picking judges. Once nominated in the Democratic primary in Cook County, they are automatically elected, and they serve for life or until they earn their 85 percent pension and retire. They appear on the ballot periodically for retention.

It's called the pig in a poke syndrome. Brainpower, experience and judicial temperament matter not.

Superficiality prevails. Gender, race, ballot position, ethnicity, Irish surnames and Democratic Party slating, or combinations thereof, eclipse such inconsequentialities as bar association recommendations. Too many male candidates, and a woman wins. Too many white candidates, and a black candidate wins. Too many candidates, and the slated candidate wins. The dream candidate is a black woman with an Irish surname.

An aspiring or sitting judge's philosophy is unknown and undiscoverable. Viewpoints on issues such as the death penalty, abortion, decriminalizing drugs and victimless crime could be great vote getters, but nary a word can be uttered. Of course, sitting in housing or traffic court doesn't require much philosophy.

In Cook County, here's the breakout: Three Supreme Court justices out of seven statewide, all Democrats, for a 4-3 majority on the high court, 24 Appellate Court justices, all Democrats, and 409 Circuit Court judges, all but a dozen Democrats, of whom 261 are elected and 148 are appointed by their peers as associate judges. In an effort to ensure diversity, 17 subcircuits were created in 1991 to elect minorities and Republicans; there are 147 judges in the subcircuits.

There will be elections in 2012 for one Supreme Court slot, six Appellate Court justices, 11 countywide Circuit Court posts and 22 subcircuit judges, for a total of 40. All action is in the Democratic primary.

Supreme Court: Some aging, or perhaps aged, "Baby Boomers" may recall a late-1950s television western called "Have Gun, Will Travel," starring Richard Boone as Paladin, an itinerant, rootless, opportunistic gun for hire.

That characterizes Appellate Court Justice Aurie Pucinski, the Paladin of Cook County politics: "Have Name, Have Opportunity, Will Win." But not, perhaps, in 2012.

Pucinski, who is the daughter of the late Roman Pucinski, who served as the 41st Ward alderman from 1973 to 1991 and as a congressman from 1959 to 1972, was on a trajectory to be Illinois' governor. After being elected as a commissioner of the old Metropolitan Sanitary District in 1984, she ran for Illinois secretary of state in 1986, setting up a putative contest against Republican incumbent Jim Edgar. But then the inexplicable occurred: Facing nominal opposition from Lyndon LaRouche adherent Janice Hart, the complacent Pucinski failed to campaign Downstate and lost the Democratic primary by 375,405-358,232, carrying Cook County by 58,991 votes (but losing in all 20 black wards). She got 262,398 votes in the county.

Edgar then crushed Hart with 67.2 percent of the vote, and he won the governorship in 1990. Had Pucinski beaten Edgar, Attorney General Neil Hartigan would have been elected governor in 1990, beating Lieutenant Governor George Ryan. Pucinski would have been the entrenched and unbeatable secretary of state well into the 1990s, and she likely would have been elected governor in 1998 or 2002. Thus, two of the state's more execrable governors, Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, would never have materialized.

Ever resilient, Pucinski ran for clerk of the Cook County Circuit Court in 1988, defeating none other than former mayor Jane Byrne in the primary and former alderman Ed Vrdolyak in the election. After reelection in 1992, Pucinski ran for Cook County Board president in 1994, getting 180,610 votes (28.8 percent of the total cast) in the primary, to 295,358 (47.1 percent) for John Stroger and 150,489 for Maria Pappas. After reelection in 1996, the ever-opportunistic Pucinski switched to the Republicans and ran for board president in 1998, getting 36.9 percent of the vote and losing to Stroger by 802,360-469,418.

Pucinski retired in 2000, but she ran for judge in the Northwest Side 10th Subcircuit in 2004, defeating the slated Jim McGing by 1,281 votes. In 2006, deciding that she wanted to move Downtown, Pucinski ran for countywide judge and defeated the slated candidate in the primary, getting 184,721 votes (37.4 percent of the total cast). In 2010, seeking the Appellate Court, Pucinski again defeated the slated candidate, Thomas Hogan, in a five-candidate race by 173,872-151,897, getting 35.8 percent of the vote while spending just $1,177. Pucinski's countywide base vote is about 180,000.

But now Pucinski, age 63, is taking on two heavy hitters in her bid for the high court: appointed Justice Mary Jane Theis, the slated candidate, and Appellate Court Justice Joy Cunningham, who defeated the slated candidate by 135,910-135,400 in the 2010 primary. Also running are former Appellate Court justice John Tully and lawyers Tom Courtney and Tom Flannigan.

Race and "reliability" are huge factors. Charles Freeman, who is black, occupies one seat, and Anne Burke, the wife of 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke, who is white, occupies the other. White and Hispanic committeemen resist having two African Americans from Cook County on the court, and they feel that Cunningham, who is black, should wait until Freeman retires. With such issues as tort reform, pension funding and reapportionment before the court, Democratic insiders want three "safe" Cook County Democrats on the bench. To them, the mercurial Pucinski is the epitome of unreliability.

Through the end of October, Theis had raised $317,000, Cunningham had raised $218,000, and Pucinski had raised $275. With endorsements by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former mayor Rich Daley, the white political establishment is backing and funding Theis.

Turnout on March 20 will be about 750,000. Both Theis and Cunningham have racial and geographic bases. Pucinski can cut into Theis' vote but not Cunningham's. Black voters will cast about 40 percent of the primary vote, white voters will cast 50 percent, and Hispanic voters will cast 10 percent. My prediction: 285,000 votes for Theis, 275,000 for Cunningham and 190,000 for Pucinski, with the rest scattered.

If, as expected, Pucinski loses, the "Pucinski Dynasty" will be over.

Appellate Court: Six vacancies are on the ballot. For the Coleman vacancy, it's race versus gender, with Circuit Court judges Nathaniel Howse, who is slated, and Kathleen Kennedy running. If blacks vote for blacks and women vote for women, Kennedy wins. Ditto for the Gallagher vacancy, as white judges Patrick Sherlock and Marguerite Quinn face slated black judge Scott Neville. Two men, one woman. Sherlock is tight with Southwest Side politicians, and he will take votes from Quinn. In a squeaker, Quinn will beat Neville. Appointed Justice Maureen Connors is unopposed for the Theis vacancy.

For the Tully vacancy, it's just race. Appointed Justice Terry Lavin, who is white and who is slated, faces judge William O'Neal, who is black. Lavin wins. For the O'Brien vacancy, it's race versus race versus gender. Democratic slatemakers, led by county party chairman Joe Berrios, dumped longtime justice Rudy Garcia and slated judge Jesse Reyes. Also filing were Judge William Stewart Boyd, who is black, and Judge Ellen Flannigan and lawyer Dan Sampen, who are white. Boyd will get a huge black vote, Hispanic voters will split their puny percentage, and white committeemen will ignore Reyes. Flannigan wins, with Boyd a close second.

Finally, in the late-opening Cahill vacancy, it's race versus Irish surnames galore. Judges Mathias Delort, who is slated, Jim McGing and Kay Marie Hanlon, and lawyer Laura Marie Sullivan, filed. All are white. That's a no-no. Women are not supposed to file against other women. Berrios is backing Delort. Also running is judge Pamela Hill-Veal, who is black and who will win in a fractured white field.

Circuit Court: There are 10 countywide vacancies, with three slated Irish-surnamed candidates, appointed judges Russ Hartigan, Mike Mullen and Jean Rooney, unopposed. Elsewhere, slated candidates have problems. Judge Stanley Hill, who is black, faces JoAnne Guillemette (who is black) and Karen O'Malley (who is white). Judge Erica Reddick, who is black, faces Kevin Cunningham, who is white. Judge Lorna Propes, who is white, faces Ed Maloney, who is white. Hispanic judge Cynthia Ramirez faces Gerald Cleary, who is white. Judge Michael Forti, who is gay, faces Jessica O'Brien, an Asian American with an Irish surname, and James Wright. Here's a no-brainer prediction: O'Malley, Cunningham, Maloney, Cleary and O'Brien, all Irish-surnamed, will win, although Reddick could pull off upset.

Slated Judge Pam Leeming, an Arab American, faces seven opponents, of whom four are women, including two with the wondrously electable names of Mary Burke and Deidre Bauman. Edge to Burke. A slated white candidate caught a break. Judge Al Swanson of Oak Park has five opponents, including three women, and is first on the ballot. Swanson wins. Slated Judge Diann Marsalek, the daughter of a former judge, faces four foes, including two women, and 19th Warder Kevin Horan. Toss-up.

Twenty-three judges will be elected in the subcircuits. In local races, appointed Judge Tom Allen, the former 38th Ward alderman, faces another appointed judge, Tony Kyriakopoulos, of the 40th Ward, in the 10th Subcircuit. The loser is off the bench. Allen will get 75 percent of the vote.

In the 9th Subcircuit (Lincolnwood, Skokie, West Rogers Park), Judge Michael Ian Bender is running for the spot of his late father, Gerald Bender. His foe is Lionel Jean-Baptiste, who is backed by U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky's political machine. Bender is favored.

The vaunted Oak Park political machine of Democratic Committeeman Don Harmon is backing Mike Clancy in the 11th Subcircuit, against Maureen Murphy, Marzita Martinez and Roger Zampan. Clancy is slightly favored.