I don't know Daniel Kirk; I think I have been introduced to him, but I've never worked with him, or even seen him in court. I don't know if he'd be a good judge or a bad one.
I learned, from reading Mr. Herguth's article, that Mr. Kirk has served as First Assistant State’s Attorney, as Anita Alvarez’s chief of staff, and as Alvarez's campaign chairman.
I also learned, from Herguth's article, that Mr. Kirk had been rated "recommended" by the Cook County Bar Association in his pursuit of an associate judgeship -- and that the rating was thereafter pulled. Reversed. This is not a situation where a prior favorable evaluation had grown stale because of the passage of time and a new evaluation committee disagreed with its predecessor; rather, this is a situation where Mr. Kirk was first approved... and then he wasn't.
Herguth mentioned that "Alvarez’s lackluster history of prosecuting police for excessive force and other alleged misconduct," had made her quite unpopular in the African American community, particularly after the release of the Laquan McDonald video.
So... was Kirk's close association with Alvarez the reason his favorable rating got pulled? Herguth asked the question:
Arlene Coleman, president of the Cook County Bar Association, would only say “there were concerns” expressed by her group’s judicial evaluation committee about Kirk, so his rating was revisited by her board and, ultimately, downgraded.If I get word about the disposition of the appeal, I will advise.
“I’m not going to say what all those concerns were,” Coleman said. “I don’t think we have to give a reason why, we have a right to change our minds.”
Either way, she acknowledged the switch was unusual and added that Kirk has appealed his “not recommended” label.
Meanwhile, in the absence of an explanation, speculation abounds. And it's difficult not to see a political motivation in this ratings switch.
Now, FWIW readers who have not been directly involved in judicial evaluations, either as candidates or evaluators, may be shrugging their shoulders here. After all, getting on the bench, whether by election or by appointment, is, after all, an inherently political process, right? Once Anita Alvarez's office became a focal point of community protest and media criticism, didn't it just make good political sense that the county's oldest and largest African-American bar group would reverse an initial favorable recommendation for one of Alverez's top lieutenants? Alvarez's reelection bid was supported by only 28.68% of the electorate countywide -- but she proved really unpopular among African-American voters. For example, in Chicago's 21st Ward, Alvarez received only 7.47% of the vote. In the 8th Ward, she received only 7.52% of the vote, 7.54% of the vote in the 6th Ward.
The problem, however, is that politics isn't generally supposed to factor into judicial evaluations. The Cook County Bar Association website, for example, says, "judicial candidates and sitting judges are evaluated on litigation and professional experience, legal knowledge and ability, sensitivity to diversity and bias, judicial temperament, diligence, punctuality, professional conduct, health and age, impartiality, character and integrity." No mention of political considerations there.
The Chicago Council of Lawyers says expressly, "The Council does not evaluate candidates based on their substantive views of political or social issues. Nor do we take into account the particular race in which a candidate is running or the candidates against whom a candidate is running."
I've often argued that an individual's political leanings are particularly unimportant for a person seeking a judicial position. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts famously analogized a judge's role to that of a baseball umpire, merely calling the balls and strikes. Such an analogy seems particularly inappropriate for a justice of the highest court in the land -- but it does seem pretty descriptive of the role of a trial court judge. If both are faithful to their oaths of office, a Trotskyite judge and a hidebound reactionary judge should usually arrive at the same conclusion when applying the law to a given set of facts (one may be happier about the outcome than the other, depending on the case).
Whether a judge has voted for Republican or Democratic candidates should not matter when evaluating whether Mrs. Jones ran the red light. On the other hand, a judge who is such a political ideologue that she automatically assumes all police officers are liars -- or, contrariwise, is certain that police officers never lie -- would be a terrible judge, right?
FWIW readers: Do you think bar associations should take a judicial hopeful's political opinions or associations into account when passing on his or her qualifications? If so, how? If not... how can bar association JECs avoid considering a candidate's politics?