October 11, 2017



Justice is supposed to be blind, but those who seek to dispense it by being elected a Cook County judge cannot be deaf, dumb nor blind. They have to be politically sly, scheming, calculating and, more helpfully, be a woman and have a ballot-friendly Irish surname. Whoever wins the March 20 Democratic primary goes on the bench.

The circulatory period for 2018 nominating petitions concludes Dec. 4, and at present there are seven countywide vacancies, with at least four more likely, along with dozens of subcircuit vacancies. County Democrats unveiled their slate in August, and there are emerging a "black slate," a "state's attorney's slate," and a "women's slate." By the filing deadline, there will be an African American for 6 of 7 vacancies, a woman on the ballot for five vacancies, and a plethora of Irish-surnames. "Slate" means that all are on one nominating petition. Other individual lawyers may file.

County Democrats can easily procure the 10,000 signatures they need for the judicial slate by Nov. 27, the first day for filing, with their seven on one petition. 3,800 is the minimum. And, if by coincidence any sitting Democratic judges retire between Nov. 13 and Dec. 4, there is a secondary filing period for the "late vacancy," from Dec. 18 to 26, also requiring 3,800 signatures.

At judicial slatemaking, which is dictated by Alderman Ed Burke (14th), Democrats chose candidates for the vacancies created by the resignations of seven judges. On the ballot, the candidates are listed as running for the "vacancy of ABC," the name of the retired judge: Oran Whiting and Preston Jones Jr., both black men, are running for the Brewer and Flanagan vacancies; Peter Gonzalez, a Hispanic man, for the McGinnis vacancy; Cecilia Horan and Clare Quish, both white women, for the Jordan and Hartigan vacancies; and Jonathan Green and Jack Hagerty, both white men, for the Clay and Rooney vacancies. Whiting, Horan and Quish are appointed judges, which insures bar association endorsements. But, in their usual subterfuge, Democrats slated eight "alternates," the ostensible rationale being that should some "openings" arise, with a judge retiring - which will definitely occur - they would go on the slate on the secondary petitions. "I expect at least four more vacancies," said a county Democratic source. But the actual reason was that if they "stepped aside" for 2018, they would have "slateability" in 2020 or later. If they didn't, the future door was slammed. Each slate donates $40,000 to the party for "expenses."

The "alternates" included Rosa Silva, Tom Sianis, Tom McGuire, Elizabeth Karkula, Tom Nowinski, Pamela Reaves Harris and Joe Cleary. Rick Cenar, the eighth "alternate," has shifted to the 10th subcircuit as an "alternate." Karkula and Cleary are appointed judges, and Cleary may run in the 10th subcircuit. Silva, from Cicero-Berwyn, lost in the 7th subcircuit in 2016. The choreography is in place. Already, one judge has retired, and post-dated his resignation, which puts Silva on the secondary slate for the Egan vacancy. Sianis, a scion of the restaurateur family that owns the Billy Goat Tavern, will definitely be on the late slate, as his family has been a longtime Democratic donor. McGuire is a former assistant state's attorney, followed by appointed judge Karkula. Inasmuch as Greek, Italian and Polish surnames rarely do well, and inasmuch as party bosses want to get Sianis on the bench, there will be some post-Thanksgiving resignations, making it difficult for some Irish-surnamed females to quickly get 5,000 signatures.

There are 399 judges in Cook County, of which 261 were elected - 104 countywide and 157 from the 15 subcircuits, with populations of about 325,000, who elect 8 to 12 judges each. They were created in 1991 to insure that some blacks, Hispanics and Republicans got on the bench. Once elected, judges stand for retention every 6 years, with subcircuit judges on the countywide retention ballot. When a vacancy occurs, the Illinois Supreme Court's 1st District justices - Charles Freeman, Anne Burke and Mary Jane Theis - appoint the successors. Freeman appoints replacements for all black retirees, Burke, the alderman's wife, for all south and west city and suburban retirees, and Theis for all Northwest Side and North suburban retirees.

There are also 138 associate judges, who are appointed by a vote of the 261 elected judges, and eligible for reappointment every 4 years. To get that plum, a lawyer must be docile, patient, have a politically clout worthy sponsor, and be a Democratic donor.

The "black slate" consists of Mable Taylor, running against Green, Patrick Dankwa John, running against Quish, Lori Ann Roper, running against Green, and Keith Spence, running against Horan. Their respective opponents are all white. Taylor and John lost in the 7th subcircuit in 2016, and John added "Dankwa" to his ballot name. The "women's slate," which includes a Filipino man, consists of Kathleen Bahey, running against Whiting, Kathleen Lanahan, running against Green, and Jerry Barrido, running against Quish.

The "state's attorney" slate, consisting of current or former courtroom prosecutors or public defenders, includes Mike O'Malley running against Green, Brian Sexton, running against Gonzalez, Amanda Pillsbury, running against Jones, and John Maher, running against Whiting.
The permutations and scenarios are endless. Voters are a sea of ignorance. They know not who is running, their qualifications, or their mindset. Under judicial canons, a candidate cannot stake out a position on any prospective issue. They cannot bluster that they will "be tough on crime," or support abortion rights or gay rights. Bar association endorsements receive minimal publicity.

So such superficialities as slating, ballot position, gender, race and an "inoffensive" (meaning Irish) surname, or combinations thereof, separate the winners from losers. Those slated must pay $40,000 to the party for "expenses."

Subcircuits are another matter. An endorsement by a Democratic committeeman can be critical, especially in Chicago-dominated districts. Committeemen like to brag that they "made a judge," but only after the ambitious lawyer makes a donation.

The most tumultuous 2018 race will be in the 6th subcircuit on the Near Northwest Side, including Logan Square and Avondale, and the Puerto Rican-majority wards, where three judgeships are available. The subcircuit, created to elect a Hispanic judge, contains parts of 13 wards, the largest being the gentrified 1st and 32nd wards, and the Puerto Rican-majority 31st, 35th and 36th wards, whose political bosses Joe Berrios, the county assessor, and Luis Arroyo, a state representative, are in constant struggle to be number one.

In 2016, three slots were available. Rich Cooke, a longtime party donor close to Richard Mell, was unopposed, mainly because he put $500,000 of his money into his account, scaring away all opposition. Cooke resigned in May. A second vacancy went unopposed to Evie DeLaRosa. Cooke and DeLaRosa were slated. The third vacancy was filled by appointed judge Anna Loftus, backed by Alderman "Proco" Joe Moreno and the other committeemen, but not Berrios and Arroyo, who backed slated Carlos Claudio. Nevertheless, Loftus won 25,964 to 20,745, with 10,495 to Ed Underhill.

The 2018 intrigue is mind-boggling. The committeemen slated Charles Beach, Stephanie Miller and Kent Delgado, but then voided the slating. For the Cooke vacancy, Underhill is backed by Arroyo and Aldermen Scott Waguespack and Ariel Reboyras, against Beach, backed by Berrios, Moreno, and Aldermen Carlos Ramirez-Rosa and Roberto Maldonado, along with 33rd Ward committeeman Aaron Goldstein, who defeated Mell in 2014. With two white people running, the Hispanic vote is critical. For the Chevere vacancy, Delgado is backed by Arroyo and Maldonado, but Berrios, Ramirez-Rosa and Goldstein are backing David Herrera, who moved into the district from the South Side. For the Lopez Cepero vacancy, Stephanie Miller, an appointed judge with appeal (like Loftus) in the Logan Square-Wicker Park white precincts, faces Linda Perez, backed by Berrios, Ramirez-Rosa, with Arroyo and the remaining committeemen supporting Miller.

Another spirited race will be in the 10th subcircuit, which contains 229 precincts in parts of 11 far North and Northwest Side wards, and 61 northwest suburban precincts, where two vacancies exist, and a third looms. For the Burke vacancy, Colleen Reardon Daly, who got slightly more than 30 percent in the 2016 primary, losing to Eve Reilly, is the slated candidate, as is Stephanie Saltauros, an appointed judge, for the Suriano vacancy. Rick Cenar tops the "alternate" list. Appointed judge Gerald Cleary, seventh on the county "alternate" list, may file against Daly, as might Noreen Connelly and Victoria Kennedy. Since only 500 signatures are needed, they may wait until a vacancy is declared.

Thus are judges made.

SPOSATO RESIGNS AS COMMITTEEMAN: In any other city, Alderman Nick Sposato, a social and fiscal conservative, would be a Republican. His 38th Ward gave Donald Trump 35.2 percent in 2016, and Sposato is not in sync with the Democrats' leftward lean. He will be replaced by state Representative Rob Martwick (D-19). More about this in next week's column.