August 3, 2022

How much is a Cook County judgeship worth? I don’t mean how much it pays, which is more than $200,000 plus benefits and a pension. I mean how much will a lawyer spend on a campaign to win the robes? For Stephen Swedlow (D) in Chicago’s Loop/Lakefront  8th subcircuit for the Thomas Lipscomb vacancy the cost was $719,520 through June 30, which came in the form of a $950,000 loan from himself. He still has $230,362 cash on hand.

Inasmuch as Swedlow defeated Jennifer Bae 29,972-22,160 on June 28 with 57.5 percent, a margin of 7,802, the tab came to exactly $24 per vote. Swedlow’s triumph gives some hope to male attorneys who have despaired in recent decades of ever becoming a judge if their opponent is a woman in a one-on-one contest, even if slated. All you have to do is just spend close to $1 million and run in a subcircuit.

Swedlow spent almost $650,000 on media, especially broadcast and cable TV, plus radio and phone and digital outreach. The 8th subcircuit consists of all or parts of 15 city wards, stretching from the 2nd, 3rd and 4th wards (59 precincts) in the South Loop through the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park (91 precincts), then north to Uptown, Edgewater and south Roger Park, ending in the east 40th Ward (103 precincts), plus the near West Loop and some of Bridgeport (23 precincts), with a grand total of 315 precincts. Understandably, there is what media insiders call bleed-over. In Swedlow’s case it was more like a hemorrhage-over. Swedlow’s multi-zone media saturation, which covered  Cook County and beyond, could have filled a blood bank.

The key is an acronym called GRP, meaning gross rating points. The cost of a media buy is predicated on the expected number of views per household per week. The optimum – and most expensive – number is four. Over a 4-month period, which was March to June this year, that could be 20 to 30 views. It is certainly likely that the 52,132 who voted in the Swedlow-Bae contest saw Swedlow’s TV ads, which featured his high-profile cases, bar ratings and family, many times. But so did another 2 million in the 7-million viewer Chicago/Cook County media market. And radio goes over most of northern Illinois.

Since judge candidates cannot discuss issues, perceptions matter. The tagline in Swedlow’s ads was that “in my courtroom, every voice will be heard.” Give me a break. I’ve been a lawyer (now retired) for 43 years, and if “every voice” got to speak, court would be in session for 12 hours/day. The judge would be a therapist and the courtroom total chaos. But the ads got him branded as “woke.”

Swedlow also lined up the committeepersons, and won 11 of 15 wards. Swedlow also was lead counsel in ongoing class actions which have resulted in judgments against the federal government on behalf of health insurance companies recovering $3.7 billion in unpaid Risk Corridors payments due under the Affordable Care Act and he represented victims’ families in a neo-Nazi shooting. He seems like a better fit for a federal judgeship, and a half-million donation to the DNC would have been helpful. But now he must slog up the judicial ladder, hearing traffic and then housing court cases for 2 to 3 years, then civil trials, and maybe by 2028 he’ll make Law, Chancery or Probate division.

Eight factors determine election outcomes: (1) slating, good for 40 percent, (2) name ID from a prior run or gender ID, with a female surname good for nearly 50 percent, (3) saturation advertising and money, (4) ethnicity, with Irish surnames helpful in Chicago, (5) bar ratings and media endorsements, (6) number of opponents, (7) subliminal negative perceptions, and (8) wedge constituencies, which are usually created by talking about controversial social issues.

APPELLATE COURT (1st District): It’s hard to wrap my mind around this. There were two vacancies elected within Cook County (see chart). In one, a White man (Raymond Mitchell) defeated a slated by Cook County Democratic Party White man (John Ehrlich), who touted on his Web site that he would be the first member of the LGBTQ+ community in court of appeals in the state if elected.  In the other, a White woman (Debra Walker) defeated a slated Black woman (Dominique Ross).  In the Democrats’ woke/Leftist “World of Identity and Minority Politics,” this kind of aberration – some call it abomination – is just not supposed to happen. It did.

All four candidates are sitting Circuit judges, and Hartigan an ex-judge. Mitchell won by 52,053 votes, getting 45.3 percent, and Walker won by 47,440 votes, getting 44.5 percent. These are blowout numbers and the outcome is largely attributable to bar ratings, particularly the ISBA’s. It is unusual, if not shocking, for sitting judges (Ehrlich and Ross) to be rated NQ (Not Qualified), but not unusual for Circuit judges seeking advancement to the Appellate Court to be rated HQ (Highly Qualified).

The poor showings of Ehrlich (33.5 percent) and Ross (34.9 percent) indicate (1) that identity politics cannot always overcome specific candidate quality and qualifications; and (2) the impact of social media as a conduit to disseminate bar ratings. Up through the early 2010s bar ratings were buried deep in the daily newspapers, and editorial endorsements mattered. Now social media has eclipsed the print media and in-person evaluation by the ISBA, CBA, CCBA and other bar associations are instantly available on-line.

“Informed” voters – meaning 10 to 15 percent, mainly in upscale suburban areas like Oak Park and the North Shore, and the city Lakefront – can have an impact. Countywide judicial turnout (D) was 450-490,000 on June 28. If 10 ten percent voted based on the bars, that’s 50-75,000 votes for the recommended candidate.

CIRCUIT COURT (Countywide): Of the 10 slated candidates, eight won. Of the slated there were four men and six women. Alderman Howard Brookins (21st) got 43.5 percent and lost by 19,229 votes to Lisa Taylor, who got 47.6 percent; and Ubi O’Neal took 8.9 percent. Brookins and Taylor both were rated Q, so gender was dispositive.

Beth Ryan, who ran in the 2020 judge primary as one of the four “Sauganash Sisters” (all of whom lost), won this time by 28,656 votes over Yolanda Harris Sayre. The major reason was Ryan was rated qualified and Sayre not qualified by the bar associations.

11TH SUBCIRCUIT: Blame it on Don Harmon and the ISBA. Chris Taliaferro has been the  alderman and committeeperson from the far West Side’s 29th Ward since 2015. He apparently wanted to get out of the council before he was voted out. Although he won with 58.7 percent in 2019, his ward is getting woker and a judgeship in the 11th subcircuit was seen as a soft landing. But he needed the help of Harmon, the powerful Illinois Senate President and Oak Park township committeeperson. Harmon endorsed Taliaferro, which should have insured a 60-40 win in the township’s 32 precincts, which cast 9,710 votes on June 28, but instead Taliaferro got walloped by 2-to-1. Game over.

Taliaferro lost 15,840-13,820 to Aileen Bhandari, an assistant state’s attorney in Kim Foxx’s office, a margin of 2,020 votes. The 11th contains parts of 8 wards with 131 precincts, along with 6 townships with 105 precincts.  Taliaferro should have swept Chicago, but instead won by an anemic 6,740-6,606, a margin of 134; he won the 36th Ward by 76, his home 29th by 585, but lost the 38th by 168.

Bhandari won 9,234-7,080 in the suburbs, a margin of 2,157, powered by her 6,439-3,271 win in Oak Park, a 2,832 margin. Gender, race and ideology were factors, but bar ratings the biggest factor. Bhandari was rated “qualified” and ex-cop Taliaferro was rated “not qualified.”
In judicial races, blessedly, competence and qualifications still remains more important than wokeness.

This column was published in Nadig Newspapers. If you, a friend or a colleague wish to be added to Russ's BUDDY LIST, and be emailed his column every Wednesday morning, email webmaster Joe Czech at