May 11, 2022

There are three things to remember about Lady Justice. She is not blind, she can do arithmetic and she is not a Republican. At least not in Cook County.

On June 28 there will be 28 judicial races on the Democratic primary ballot, 12 countywide and 16 in subcircuits. And it is safe to make the following generalizations based on previous judicial elections.

If the race is two men against one woman, the woman usually will win the election

It used to be that Democratic voters flocked to Irish-sounding names on the ballot, but these days anything that sounds non-White will do.

If it is the slated versus the non-slated candidate, the non-slated wins a quarter of the time.

For the two Appellate Court vacancies (see chart), two Circuit Court judges were slated: Dominique Ross and John Ehrlich. Ross is opposed by Debra Walker and and Russ Hartigan, so technically Ross should win. Erlich is opposed by two white men, both judges so his loss would embarrass the party. Raymond Mitchell could win a one-on-one, but Devlin Schoop divides the non-Ehrlich vote. Ehrlich will win.

Among the ten Circuit Court races, the likeliest loser is Alderman Howard Brookins (21st) who is opposed by Ubi O’Neal and Lisa Michelle Taylor. It would be humiliating for the party on the near Southwest Side to not carry Brookins, but math is reality: two men equal a win for Lisa Michelle Taylor. Next most likely is slated Yolanda Harris Sayre, a woman with a ballot-friendly name - Elizabeth (Beth) Ryan, a Northwest Sider who lost in 2020. Ryan will win.

One White guy who lucked out is appointed judge Thomas Donnelly, who faces a Claudia Silva-Hernandez and Meridth Hammer, so the “math” is on his side. Another lucky guy is Michael Weaver. Another man is running, so is Diedre Baumann of Evanston should also have a shot. But this is her fifth race for judge. Weaver will win.

The slated candidates Diana Lopez faces two women, slated Ruth Gudino one woman, and slated Araceli DeLaCruz faces Jacqueline Griffin, a white woman, and Dan Balanoff, son of a current judge. Hispanic turnout is usually low. Expect a Griffin upset.

Appointed judge Tracy Porter, is in the enviable position of have two Irish-surnamed women opposing her – Mary McMahon and Susan McEneely. Porter wins.

The Dems’ judge-making is not about the best and the brightest. It’s about identity politics and the balancing of race, gender and identity, satisfying certain geographical constituencies, and collecting the party’s $40,000 fee for campaign expenses. 

But the most important criterion is compliance. Democrats don’t expect every judge to be a puppet. Each runs his or her own courtroom. To get ahead, to get assigned to a particular courtroom or courthouse, to be promoted to a premier division, and to advance to the Appellate Court, and to even get good courtroom staff, a judge needs to go along to get along. And on key issues, like tort reform or keeping Rahm Emanuel on the ballot in 2011, a judge must serve the party.

That is going to change in 2024. Identity politics will be minimalized. Countywide judgeship elections will vanish.

The Illinois legislature, in an under-reported development in 2021, passed a bill which remapped the four non-Cook County state Supreme Court districts, the intent being to maintain the Democrats’ 4-3 majority. It also expanded the number of subcircuits in Cook County from 15 to 20 and abolished the countywide election of judges, the intent being to get more minorities on the bench.

There are 422 elected judges in Cook County, 24 on the Appellate Court and 398 on the Circuit Court, of which 147 were elected from the 15 subcircuits created by law in 1991, the intent being to elect more Republicans and minorities. Prior thereto judges were elected at-large in Chicago and a far lesser number at-large in the suburbs. Each subcircuit has 8-10 judges. At present there are 142 associate judges, elected by the sitting elected judges.

Judges get paid $207,000-a year, get an 80 percent pension and face retention every 6 years, and stay on the bench for 6 more if they get 60 percent of the vote. For that they need the party to churn out a retention vote and the Chicago Bar Association to deem them “qualified.” There is an election for judge only when a vacancy arises. If a subcircuit vacancy occurs, a new judge is elected from that district. If a judge elected countywide retires, that seat goes on the county ballot. Not any longer. Effective in 2024 every vacancy will be assigned to the subcircuit where the retiree resides. It will take a couple of decades, but by 2040 every judge will be elected in a subcircuit.

By creating five new subcircuits, every existing subcircuit is reduced in size by a third - and the influence of the party, the bar association and identity politics is greatly diminished. Lawyers active in their community, not in the party or CBA, will have a chance. Each new subcircuit will have a population of about 265,000, but a primary turnout of under 45,000.

11th SUBCIRCUIT: Chicago Aderman Chris Taliaferro (29th), who endorsed Willie Wilson, and represents a West Side Black-majority ward and he should be a slam-dunk to win this judgeship. But the district contains all of Oak Park and Oak Park Township, where voters are Woke and well-informed, and not enamored with an alderman and ex-cop as their judge. They comprise about 40 percent of the subcircuit’s electorate. Township committeeperson Don Harmon has endorsed Taliaferro. Also running is Aileen Bhandari, a 20-year county prosecutor. She will sweep Oak Park and win.

8th SUBCIRCUIT: John Fritchey is best remembered for winning Rod Blagojevich’s Illinois House seat in 1996, for being ex-alderman William Banks’ brother’s son-in-law, and for losing his county board seat to Bridget Degnen in 2018. This Lincoln Park-Wicker Park district has a large LGBTQ community, and two other men are running. Fritchey will likely lose to Bradley Trowbridge.

With time, energy and money, an ambitious lawyer can be a judge. 
All it will take is 25,000 to 30,000 votes.

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