Thursday, November 15, 2018

Guest Post: Dr. Klumpp reviews the results of the retention election

This morning FWIW is proud to present a guest post from Albert J. Klumpp, PhD, analyzing the results of the recent retention election.

Throughout my dissertation research and in every subsequent election, I was able to study Cook County’s judicial retention voting using the same approach, with a small group of basic variables. On November 6th that all went out the window. It was the most complicated retention election the county has ever seen and added a half-dozen new variables to my analysis. Much more could be written about the results than fits in a blog post, so I’ll simply run down the basics:
  • The number of votes cast on retention judges was the highest for a midterm election since 1966, and by a large margin. The median for circuit judges was 1,204,682 (based on preliminary results), a 41% increase over the 2014 median and a 32% increase over 2010. In part this was due to more voters turning out than in past midterms, and in part to a much higher percentage of voters completing the retention section of the ballot. Typically when more voters turn out, the participation rate for retention judges decreases, but this November’s results showed the opposite. In fact the participation rate was the highest ever for retention judges in Cook County, as shown below.

  • The base approval rate for a judge with no name-cue advantages and no negative performance ratings was 75.3 percent, a figure very consistent with previous elections. Female judges got a boost of 3.3 percentage points, the highest amount ever, and an Irish name was worth 1 percentage point. Because of outliers in my initial analysis, I added a variable based on a U.S. Census list of the most common African-American surnames--which I’ve used routinely in primary election analyses--and found those names to add 2.6 points. There also was a Hispanic name boost of 1 percentage point. (All of these estimates have margins of error but are considered statistically significant.)
  • The major sources of voter information were somewhat difficult to evaluate due to overlap with other factors, but as best as I could estimate them, the Tribune, ISBA, CBA and CCL recommendations were unusually equal, each worth roughly 5 percent of the vote. The ISBA result was a major surprise since there had never been evidence of ISBA ratings influencing past Cook County elections. The results of my initial analysis compelled their inclusion, though, and the revised analysis confirmed their impact. Furthermore, two judges who received negative ratings from smaller Alliance members were outliers by roughly 2 percentage points, indicating that even those ratings were seen and used by scattered voters despite relatively little publicity. The latter results suggest the use of the Internet and smartphones by a detectable number of retention voters to seek out and apply information from a broader group of sources than in the past.
  • Social media also played a detectable role for the first time. There were several judges whose approval percentages were negative outliers in my analysis for no apparent reason—until I found the November 9 Sun-Times story about the “Girl I Guess” progressive voter guide and how it appeared to resonate with and be widely distributed through social media by young voters (who turned out in large numbers). Sure enough, the retention recommendations in that guide explained the outliers, and their inclusion in my analysis suggests that roughly 3 percent of retention voters used information from the guide or other sources that referenced it.
  • Finally, the 800-pound gorilla: the county Democratic Party’s decision to recommend against Matthew Coghlan’s retention and advocate its decision in its mass mailings. The wide distribution, ideal timing, and clear formatting of its vote-no message checked all of the boxes necessary to turn a piece of negative information about a retention candidate into a defeat. Once the above-mentioned variables are accounted for, the targeted vote against Coghlan measures out to a whopping 10.3 percent of the retention electorate. Without it Coghlan would have won retention with at least 62.7 percent of the vote and very likely more, since the mass mailings almost certainly caused at least some of the increase in retention participation.
It should be noted that there also were non-party, largely city-based efforts to target Coghlan, mainly by community groups in certain areas, and that those efforts undoubtedly influenced some voters and contributed to the 10.3 percent total. I haven’t yet dug deeply enough into the ward and township breakdowns to know exactly how much (and I will do so, but running eighty separate analyses takes time). However, simply analyzing the city and suburban results separately produces targeting estimates of 11.2 percent for the city (which includes at least fourteen party ward organizations that were particularly outspoken against Coghlan, possibly more) and 9.6 percent for the suburbs—not all that different. So at least for now the lion’s share of the targeted vote, and the margin between retention and removal, gets attributed to the party’s decision and indirectly to whichever factors influenced it.

Stepping back from the vote numbers, one other important fact about Coghlan’s removal should be mentioned. Twelve U.S. states currently use retention elections for most or all of their state-level trial court judges, and including this month's retention election, a combined total of 11,978 judges have stood for retention to trial courts in those states. Coghlan’s defeat is only the second time ever in which a judge was targeted and removed by a political party. Retention defeats are rare for any reason: including this November, only 96 of the 11,978 trial court candidates failed to win retention. But a political party targeting a trial court judge at all, much less removing one, is virtually unheard of.

Majority party organizations in most of the retention jurisdictions could remove judges routinely if they wanted to. But parties have typically stayed far away from retention elections, especially at the trial court level. In large part this is because they have higher priorities, but there also is a danger of being perceived as trying to politicize and manipulate the judicial system.

As a researcher I have no desire to pass judgment on Judge Coghlan’s worthiness for retention or anyone’s decision to support or oppose him. I simply observe that there are larger implications of this November's election and how future elections will unfold in its wake, and that it is likely that few people, even among party leaders, have yet fully considered them. There also is a wake-up call in these retention results for bar associations regarding how they deliver information and which voters they reach. We’ll see if they hear it.

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Albert J. Klumpp has been a generous and frequent contributor to this blog over the years. A research analyst with a public policy PhD, Klumpp is the author of several scholarly works analyzing judicial elections including, most recently, Alaska’s Judicial Retention Elections: A Comparative Analysis, 34 Alaska Law Review 143-160 (2017). Other works include Judicial Primary Elections in Cook County, Illinois: Fear the Irish Women!, 60 DePaul L. Rev. 821 (2011); "Voter Information and Judicial Retention Elections in Illinois," 94 Ill. B.J. 538 (October 2006); and "Cook County Judicial Elections: Partisanship, Campaign Spending, & Voter Information," CBA Record, January 2007 (p. 34).

Thursday, November 08, 2018

One thousand two hundred eighty three new laborers admitted to the legal vineyard

In six ceremonies around the state today (two of them in Chicago), 1,283 new lawyers were admitted to practice in Illinois. Most of these -- 1,051, to be precise -- were admitted at morning and afternoon sessions in Chicago.

Presiding at this morning's session at the Arie Crown Theater were Supreme Court Justices Mary Jane Theis and P. Scott Neville, Jr.


A number of bar association officials were on hand to welcome the new admittees. Two had speaking roles. Shown above is Chicago Bar Association President Steven M. Elrod. Also speaking was Kalia Coleman, Vice President of the Black Women Lawyers' Association.

Appellate Court Justice Mary K. Rochford and ARDC Administrator Jerome E. Larkin moved for admission of the morning class.

Eventually, the new admittees were invited to stand and take the oath.


Many of the this morning's speakers made it a point to tell the new admittees that they had been sitting in that same auditorium once, some longer ago than others, and for the same purpose.

I can not make this claim. That's not the beginning of a stunning confession -- the fact is, in 1980, I was sworn in at a ceremony in Elgin. My parents lived in Lake County at the time. So I admit to some curiosity at seeing how these things are done in the big city.

Still, inasmuch as I have never covered one of these events before, some readers may wonder why I chose to cover today's celebration.

There is, of course, a reason.

Shown here is my daughter-in-law, Gabriella Leyhane, with her parents, Frank and Rose Obregón, and my son, John. I am very happy for, and proud of, Gabby on this special day. My congratulations to her and all the new admittees.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

What role did 'low information' voters play in this election?

Updated November 8, 2018 to correct factual error.

It's time to start poking through the ashes of the 2018 campaign.

What can we learn? What lessons may be applicable in future campaigns?

There's a lot of anecdotal evidence out there suggesting that some of this year's voters were... less than well informed about... oh, everything.


Criminal defense attorney Scott Greenfield saw a lot of certitude based on attitude out there in Social Media Land.


But, OK, you say, that's Twitter. Donald Trump's playpen. Take Twitter seriously? That way lies madness, you say.

And, if you're a regular FWIW reader, you are very likely a well-informed voter. You may not even know any low information voters.

(Notice -- I'm not using any more pejorative terms here. I could. But I am sick and tired of all the sanctimonious claptrap about being civil and taking the high road -- just as soon as the worst offender on the Other Side stops first. It's coming on Christmas, as Joni Mitchell sang, and one of the songs of the season you will soon hear in heavy rotation is "Let There Be Peace on Earth." Well, as the song says, let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.)

Anyway, you are inclined to dismiss anecdotal evidence as wholly unreliable.

OK.

Let me direct your attention to Exhibit A -- the more than 56,000 in Illinois' 3rd Congressional District who voted for an actual Illinois Nazi. Not Henry Gibson from The Blues Brothers (pictured at right) but a genuine, self-proclaimed Illinois Nazi.

Are there really 56,350 Nazi sympathizers in this mostly Southwest suburban district? (There are 203 Chicago precincts in this district as well.)

Were there 56,350 pranksters out there, just funnin' at the polling place?

Or were there, perhaps, a lot of folks who voted for the Illinois Nazi without having the first clue about what they were doing?

Let me show you now what I'm calling Exhibit B, the race for the Lawrence vacancy in the far northwest suburban 13th Judicial Subcircuit.

For the first time ever -- Dr. Klumpp will correct me if I'm wrong about this -- Democrats won all three vacancies.

There is considerable overlap between the 13th Subcircuit and the northernmost chunk of the reverse comma-shaped 6th Congressional District. If there was a Blue Wave anywhere last night it was in suburban areas -- not just in the Chicago area, but around many major cities across the country. And last night, in the 6th District race, Democrat Sean Casten unseated longtime Republican Congressman Peter Roskam.

The 6th Congressional District was a district, remember, that was drawn to hem in as many Republicans as possible.

In most years, Democrats don't even bother fielding judicial candidates in the 13th.

This year, however, the Democrats had two good candidates, former Judge Ketki "Kay" Steffen and current Judge Samuel J. Betar III.

And to be fair, these two candidates did do significantly better than the Democrat running for the Lawrence vacancy in the 13th. Judge Betar won his race by 8,572 votes. Steffen won hers by 11,133.

But Democrat Shannon P. O'Malley -- a candidate who began his legal career as Philip Spiwak -- who skipped assessment by each and every bar association -- who was called out by the Illinois Civil Justice League and Injustice Watch -- also won his race for the aforementioned Lawrence vacancy. By 2,278 votes. Not a landslide, certainly, but indisputable.

This is not to say that Judge O'Malley (or Judge Spiwak, if he resumes his former handle) will not provide good and useful service to the citizens of County Cook. Six years hence, at retention time, he may well enjoy the support of each and every bar group. There was at least one candidate on this year's retention ballot who eschewed bar evaluations in 2012 -- but who was unanimously rated qualified this time around.

But... I respectfully submit that O'Malley was the fortunate beneficiary of voters who came out specifically, and only, for Casten. Many of his votes may have come from low-information voters -- that is to say, voters who did not seek out available information about judicial candidates. Maybe they were swayed by the sonorous, and androgynous, appellation. Maybe they merely hewed to the party line.

The good news here is that this same evidence can also be interpreted to show that many of these judicial voters in the 13th did study up on the ballot and did know what they were doing in judicial races. That's why Steffen and Betar won by significantly more than O'Malley. But without the surge for Casten, Republicans might have swept all these races, as they always had in the past.

So the broader lesson is clear: Judicial candidates are at the mercy of high-profile races further up the ballot. Judicial candidates can't turn out large numbers at the polling place, but they may be buoyed up -- or buried -- by turnout beyond their control. Perhaps it was ever thus. Turnout is the key. And I hope to look at turnout in some key Cook County races in another post.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Coghlan appears to be the first retention judge candidate to lose since 1990

In 1978, John S. Boyle was Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County when he was defeated for retention.

In 1986, after being targeted by columnist Mike Royko and the Fraternal Order of Police, Judge Lawrence Passarella lost his retention bid.

In 1990, Cook County voters rejected seven judges seeking retention -- although they simultaneously elected one of these to the Appellate Court.

But in every election since, from 1992 until tonight, every judge seeking retention was retained.

Tonight, however, after the Cook County Democratic Party turned against him, after the Tribune editorialized against him, and after a vigorous "Dump Matt Coghlan" campaign on social media, Judge Matthew E. Coghlan has lost his retention bid.

With 86% of the City vote counted, Coghlan has just over 50% 'yes' votes. He is polling better in the suburbs -- but with just under 80% of the votes counted, Coghlan has 54% 'yes' votes. He needed to get 60%.

Other judges who received significant negative ratings -- like Lisa Marino (the only judge who was not recommended for retention by the Chicago Bar Association) or Maura Slattery Boyle (who, like Coghlan, received negative attention from Injustice Watch -- will apparently finish with under 70% 'yes' votes -- but significantly above the crucial 60% line.

Marino and Slattery Boyle were also targeted by the Tribune.

But they were not abandoned by the Democratic Party.

Democratic Party opposition seems to be a major factor in this result.

Democrats faring well so far in 13th Subcircuit

With 56% of the votes counted, former Judge Ketki "Kay" Steffen has a better than 4,000 vote lead over Republican Gary William Seyring. Judge Samuel J. Betar, running as a Democrat, is leading Republican Christine Svenson by roughly 3,000 votes. Republican Daniel Fitzgerald has a whisker-thin lead over Demcorat Shannon P. O'Malley. O'Malley, who did not participate in evaluations by the Chicago Bar Association or any of the Alliance bar groups, began his legal career sub nomine Philip Spiwak.

In the one contested 15th Subcircuit race, at the opposite end of the county, with over 60% of the votes counted, Democrat Scott McKenna has a comfortable lead over Republican Karla Marie Fiaoni.

In the 12th Subcircuit, with almost 58% of the returns counted, Democrat Joel Chupack has a roughly 8,400 vote margin over Republican David Studenroth.

All retention judges seem likely to survive -- except Coghlan

The numbers are starting to stack up now.

With 61% of the City vote counted, Judge Matthew E. Coghlan has 'yes' votes from only 50.44% of the voters. In the suburbs, with just over 40% of the votes counted, Coghlan is faring better -- but still running under the necessary 60% 'yes' vote required for retention.

In contrast, Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke has just over 81% 'yes' votes in the City, and nearly an 80% 'yes' vote in suburban returns so far.

OK... Clerk's website is showing results on the Suburban Summary Report

But not yet on the online results page.

Judge Matthew Coghlan has only 55% 'yes' votes -- but, again, these are early, early results, with only about 5.4% of the votes counted.

It looks like we'll have to wait a little while yet for more meaningful numbers.

Stay tuned.

Only City numbers are posted so far... but Coghlan in trouble in early returns

Judge Matthew E. Coghlan, abandoned by the Democratic Party in his retention bid, the focus of a very vocal Coalition to Dump Matt Coghlan, seems to be in serious trouble in early returns. With 28.61% of the City votes counted, Coghlan has 'yes' votes from only 51.01% of the electorate.

A judge must receive 'yes' votes from more than 60% of the voters in order to be retained in office.

By way of comparison, with the same number of votes counted, Judge Moshe Jacobius has 75.83% favorable votes.

Caveat: These are City-only results. Nothing is yet showing up on the Cook County Clerk's website, where suburban results are posted.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Updated: Resources for Cook County voters looking to make informed choices in judicial races

Cook County judges seeking retention in 2018
As we head into the last few days of early voting and look forward to Election Day on Tuesday (hallelujah! the commercials will finally stop... at least for a few days before the mayoral commercials start up on us), visitors here may be looking to do their due diligence and figure out how to make informed choices about the many judicial races on the November ballot.

There are two types of judicial races on the ballot. First, there are elections to fill judicial vacancies -- to replace judges who have left the bench. For most Cook County voters, there are no choices to make here. All countywide races were decided in the March Democratic Primary; so too were most of the subcircuit races.

There are five exceptions. Voters in the 12th and 15th Subcircuits have to decide one contest in each of their respective subcircuits. Voters in the 13th Subcircuit will have choices in the election of three judges.

The second type of judicial race on the ballot is the retention election. Here, voters get to decide whether judges who were elected (for the most part) six years ago (or any multiple of six) shall be retained in office.

This year, there is one Supreme Court justice and one Appellate Court justice on the retention ballot. Justices of these courts are elected to 10 year terms. But, like their colleagues on the Circuit Court bench, they must also face the voters on the question of whether they shall be retained in office.

There are 59 Circuit Court judges seeking retention this year.

Some voters find the sheer number of retention candidates to be intimidating. But the Chicago Bar Association and the 11 bar groups that together comprise the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening have reviewed all the judges seeking retention and have weighed in with their opinions. The retention judges also have their own website that you can visit for information about jurists seeking to remain in office. (The photograph that accompanies this post was taken from that website.)

What follows are links to FWIW posts regarding the bar associations' evaluations of retention candidates and candidates seeking election in the five contested subcircuit races. You will note that opinions regarding some of these candidates differ. But this information will, hopefully, be of some use to voters:
If the above and foregoing is stillnot enough for you, here are some additional FWIW posts that you may find useful as you decide which judges or judicial candidates are worthy of your vote:

Alliance issues grids with all the blanks filled in

The Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening has today issued updated 'grids' for the Cook County judicial retention election. What follows are the most up to date, complete grids (click to enlarge or clarify the images as necessary):

My thanks again to Alliance Administrator Joyce Williams for keeping this blog up to date.

Recommendations and ratings provided by Alliance members are advisory only and do not constitute an endorsement of any candidacy.

The Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening is comprised of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Chicago Area (AABA), the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago (BWLA), the Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL), the Cook County Bar Association (CCBA), the Decalogue Society of Lawyers (DSL), the Hellenic Bar Association of Illinois (HBA), the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois (HLAI), the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago (LAGBAC), the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois (PRBA), and the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois (WBAI), all working collaboratively to improve the process of screening judicial candidates in Cook County, Illinois.

BallotReady compiles information regarding judicial candidates


The Chicago Tribune recently touted BallotReady as a resource for voters trying to make sense of the Cook County judicial ballot.

From the main screen (that's a snippet of the home page, above) a voter can enter his or her address and get information on every race that will be on the real ballot.

At least, that's the plan.

And it's very encouraging that this is the second go-round for BallotReady (I had a post about the site during the 2016 primary season). In my time covering this beat, ambitious groups tend to surface for this race or that one -- but go dark before the next election rolls around.

But.

I spent some time with Ballot Ready noodling around the retention candidates. No, I did not go through them all.

But I did go through enough to see that, while there seems to be some information for every retention judge, every one that I reviewed was missing something. The Chicago Bar Aassociation rating. The Cook County Bar Association rating. The Black Women Lawyer's Association. The Decalogue Society. Someone. This one had 11 ratings, that one only 9. Some less than that. And when I thought I'd detected a pattern (no CBA ratings) the next several all had CBA ratings but missed one or more Alliance bar groups.

Also, the candidates are not listed in ballot order. Strangely, on my 'ballot,' the retention judges were listed first -- but there was a countywide vacancy inserted right underneath the Supreme Court and Appellate Court retention candidates.

And, unless I missed it, there were no links to the three bar groups that issue narrative ratings of candidates (the CBA, Chicago Council of Lawyers, and the ISBA). But BallotReady certainly provides a lot more information for Cook County judicial retention voters than most sources.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Further updating Alliance retention grids

Really careful readers may have noticed the discrepancies between the Cook County Bar Association retention judge ratings announced earlier this week and the CCBA ratings shown in the last set of Alliance grids that I published here on FWIW.

I admit, I missed it.

To be specific, that last set of Alliance grids showed Judges Mike McHale, Mary Colleen Roberts, and Erica L. Reddick as having not been evaluated by the CCBA (and not because of any fault on the candidates' part).

The CCBA ratings showed that the group had completed evaluations of these three judges and had recommended a "yes" vote for their retention.

Updated Alliance grids follow (as always, click to enlarge or clarify):

My thanks, as always, to Alliance Administrator Joyce Williams for providing the corrected information.

Recommendations and ratings provided by Alliance members are advisory only and do not constitute an endorsement of any candidacy.

The Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening is comprised of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Chicago Area (AABA), the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago (BWLA), the Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL), the Cook County Bar Association (CCBA), the Decalogue Society of Lawyers (DSL), the Hellenic Bar Association of Illinois (HBA), the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois (HLAI), the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago (LAGBAC), the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois (PRBA), and the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois (WBAI), all working collaboratively to improve the process of screening judicial candidates in Cook County, Illinois.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Almost complete: The Alliance issues updated grids on Cook County judicial retention candidates

With just a couple of exceptions, all the ratings from the members of the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening are in now for Cook County jurists seeking retention this November.

Herewith the updated 'grids' as of this morning (click on the images to clarify or enlarge):


Recommendations and ratings provided by Alliance members are advisory only and do not constitute an endorsement of any candidacy.

The Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening is comprised of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Chicago Area (AABA), the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago (BWLA), the Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL), the Cook County Bar Association (CCBA), the Decalogue Society of Lawyers (DSL), the Hellenic Bar Association of Illinois (HBA), the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois (HLAI), the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago (LAGBAC), the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois (PRBA), and the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois (WBAI), all working collaboratively to improve the process of screening judicial candidates in Cook County, Illinois.

Cook County Bar Association recommends "yes" vote on all but three Cook County retention judge candidates

The Cook County Bar Association has released recommendations for judicial candidates seeking retention in the November election.

The CCBA is recommending a "yes" vote for Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke, Appellate Court Justice Margaret Stanton McBride, and 56 of the 59 Cook County Circuit Court judges seeking retention.

The three Circuit Court judges given a negative rating by the CCBA are Catherine Marie Haberkorn, Maura Slattery Boyle, and Matthew E. Coughlan.

Haberkorn was rated Qualified for retention or recommended for retention by every other Alliance member and also by the Chicago Bar Association. Slattery Boyle and Coughlan were both rated Qualified by the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association. Both, however, were rated negatively by the Chicago Council of Lawyers and the Black Women Lawyers' Association. While Slattery Boyle was rated positively by Decalogue Society of Lawyers, the Hispanic Lawyers of Illinois, the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago, and the Puerto Rican Bar Association, Coughlan was rated negatively by each of these groups.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Judge William Hooks referred to anger-management counseling, reassigned to administrative duties until further notice

In a press release issued yesterday evening, Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans announced that the Executive Committee of the Circuit Court of Cook County has relieved Judge William H. Hooks of his duties in the Criminal Division, assigning him to administrative duties until further notice, and referring him for anger-management counseling.

According to the court's press release, "Judge Hooks is accused of acting in such a manner that created a hostile work environment for another judge." Except for reporting that Judge Hooks "expressed contrition" regarding the matter, no other details of the alleged misconduct have been provided.

While performing administrative duties, Judge Hooks will report to the Sixth Municipal District Courthouse in Markham. According to the press release, Hooks "will be co-mentored by Circuit Judge Sharon M. Sullivan, Presiding Judge of the County Division, and Circuit Judge Tommy Brewer, Presiding Judge of the Sixth Municipal District."

The court's announcement also notes that the matter involving Judge Hooks has been referred to the Judicial Inquiry Board.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Suburban Bar Coalition offers its ratings of Cook County retention candidates

Click on any image below to enlarge or clarify. The preview images look fuzzy to me, with or without my glasses, and they may likewise appear fuzzy for you, but that is a reflection of my technological limitations rather than any problem with the source material received. I'm particularly concerned that this post may not be as 'mobile-friendly' as I would prefer. I will update later, if I figure out a different way to do this.

Per email received from Suburban Bar Coalition President Deidre Baumann, herewith that group's ratings of jurists seeking retention in the November election (Circuit Court retention candidates are listed in alphabetical, not ballot, order):


The Suburban Bar Coalition of Cook County, Illinois (SBC) is composed of the Northwest Suburban Bar Association (NWSBA), North Suburban Bar Association (NSBA), West Suburban Bar Association (WSBA), Southwest Bar Association (SWBA), and South Suburban Bar Association (SSBA), each of which operates in suburban Cook County. The members of the SBC are composed of representatives from each of the suburban bar groups and collectively represent over 1,000 attorneys.

Updated Alliance retention grids

Not all the Alliance bar groups have yet spoken (as you will see) but some of the blanks have been filled in since our last post on the 'grids' issued by the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening in the Cook County judicial retention election.

Herewith the grids as of this morning (click on the images to clarify or enlarge):

Updated grids will be released as additional recommendations are received.

Recommendations and ratings provided by Alliance members are advisory only and do not constitute an endorsement of any candidacy.

The Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening is comprised of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Chicago Area (AABA), the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago (BWLA), the Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL), the Cook County Bar Association (CCBA), the Decalogue Society of Lawyers (DSL), the Hellenic Bar Association of Illinois (HBA), the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois (HLAI), the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago (LAGBAC), the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois (PRBA), and the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois (WBAI), all working collaboratively to improve the process of screening judicial candidates in Cook County, Illinois.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Injustice Watch offers useful tool for retention voters

Injustice Watch has a nifty Voters' Guide for persons looking for more information about Cook County Circuit Court judges on this year's retention ballot. Here is a link to that guide.

Injustice Watch certainly has a point of view. Some readers will applaud its advocacy, some may be far less enthusiastic. But there's no denying that, from a technical point of view, the Injustice Watch Voters' Guide is easy to navigate and chock-full of information. I'm jealous.

The Injustice Watch site uses "flags" to call attention to particular retention candidates; several candidates are flagged more than once. Here are the flags used on the Injustice Watch Voters' Guide:


I wonder about the use of "former prosecutor" or "former public defenders" as "flag" points. This is biographical information at most -- unless the judge in question has been unable to shed the role of advocate for the neutral judicial role. But, at that point, what was in the judge's past would not be the problem; it would be the judge's present behavior that would be worrisome. Injustice Watch has published a number of stories in this election cycle about a few judges who appear to 'lean' toward the State in criminal cases -- and these are all linked from the Voters' Guide -- but it has 'flagged' 16 former prosecutors (and nine former PDs). As it happens, and as these flags prove, service in the State's Attorney's Office or as a Public Defender is a frequent item in judicial résumés. Other well-worn paths to the bench go through the Attorney General's Office or the Chicago Corporation Counsel's Office. So... what's the significance of these two particular prior occupations supposed to be?

The Injustice Watch also offers 'side by side' comparisons of candidates seeking the five contested subcircuit vacancies (you'll have to scroll down a bit for these).

Here are some other posts (with links to sites) that retention voters (and voters in the contested subcircuit races) may find of interest:

Advocates Society Judges' Night this Thursday, October 18

The Advocates Society will hold its Annual Judges' Night this Thursday, October 18, from 5:30 to 9:00 p.m., at the Polish Museum of America, 984 North Milwaukee Avenue.

Each year the Advocates Society invites every current sitting Cook County judge, and all surrounding county presiding judges, for an event that has no speeches, no assigned seating, but does have dinner.

Tickets will be available at the door -- $75 for non-Advocates members, $50 for Advocates members (including guests of judges and retired judges). Dinner will be served at 6:30 p.m. Free parking is available behind the museum. For more information, or to reserve tickets, email Lucas Figiel at lucas@figlaw.com.

Who Sits Where -- 2018 isn't over and we're already looking at 2020

Updated October 17, 2018
Updated October 30, 2018
Updated November 14, 2018

While voters are still trying to figure out who's on the November ballot, wannabe candidates, their confidants, and their consultants are already looking ahead to 2020.

So what are they looking at?

What follows is not a comprehensive list of Cook County judicial vacancies but, rather, a list of vacancies that have either been filled by Supreme Court appointment or for which an application process has been announced or that I am pretty sure exist even though no announcement has been made. Some of the "vacancies" listed below aren't yet vacant -- but the current officeholder chose not to file for retention. There are likely to be other vacancies which the Supreme Court has neither filled nor announced. And, of course, new vacancies will occur in the ordinary course. I can and will update as necessity requires and opportunity permits.

But we all have to start somewhere.

As always, all errors of omission or commission in this list are mine alone and I am grateful for additions and corrections provided.

Supreme Court Vacancy

Vacancy of the Hon. Charles E. Freeman -- P. Scott Neville, Jr.

Appellate Court Vacancies

Vacancy of the Hon. P. Scott Neville, Jr. -- Michael B. Hyman1
Vacancy of the Hon. John B. Simon -- John C. Griffin

Countywide Vacancies

Vacancy of the Hon. Carole K. Bellows -- Unfilled
Vacancy of the Hon. Raymond Funderburk -- Unfilled
Vacancy of the Hon. Jessica A. O'Brien -- Unfilled
Vacancy of the Hon. Sebastian T. Patti -- Unfilled

Subcircuit Vacancies

1st Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. Rodney Hughes Brooks -- Unfilled
Vacancy of the Hon. Vanessa A. Hopkins2 -- Unfilled

2nd Subcircuit
"A" Vacancy3 -- Unfilled

6th Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. Marya Nega -- Unfilled
Vacancy of the Hon. Kathleen M. Pantle -- Unfilled

8th Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. John J. Fleming -- Jeanne Marie Wrenn4
Vacancy of the Hon. Deborah J. Gubin -- Unfilled

9th Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. Marvin F. Luckman -- Unfilled

13th Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. Margarita Kulys Hoffman

14th Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. Robert Bertucci -- Unfilled
Vacancy of the Hon. William G. Lacy -- Unfilled

15th Subcircuit
Vacancy of the Hon. John C. Griffin -- Nichole C. Patton

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1 Justice Hyman is a Cook County Circuit Court judge sitting by appointment to the Appellate Court. The language of the Supreme Court's order appointing Justice Hyman to this vacancy suggests that, unless he runs for, and wins a seat on the Appellate Court in 2020, he will return to his original position as a Circuit Court judge. For this reason I have not included a "Hyman vacancy" among the countywide openings.

2 The late Rhonda Crawford won the Democratic Party's nomination for this vacancy in the 2016 primary but never took office.

3 Vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Alexander White.

4 Judge Wrenn was appointed to this vacancy, but she is unopposed on the November ballot for election to the 8th Subcircuit vacancy of the Hon. Sheryl Pethers. As of the first Monday in December, this vacancy will reopen.

Friday, October 12, 2018

ISBA releases explanations of its ratings in contested subcircuit elections

Voters in the far north-suburban 12th Subcircuit and far south-suburban 15th Subcircuit will have a say in the election of one judge each. Voters in the far northwest suburban 13th Subcircuit will have a say in the election of three judges.

The Illinois State Bar Association has issued ratings for the candidates in each of these contested races. (To access the complete ISBA reports for all judicial candidates on the November ballot, including retention candidates, visit this page of the ISBA website.)

Here are the ISBA's evaluations of candidates in the contested subcircuit contests:

12th Subcircuit

Vacancy of the Hon. William O. Maki

David Studenroth (R) – Qualified

David Studenroth has been licensed since 1987. After several years working for the State’s Attorney’s Office, in 1998 he opened his solo practice focusing on criminal defense. He has substantial trial experience and is considered knowledgeable with a good temperament and high character. He is active in his community. Mr. David Studenroth is found to be Qualified for election to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Joel Chupack (D) – Qualified

Joel Chupack was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1982. He is currently a partner at Henrich & Kramer, focusing on real estate litigation, after working with several other firms as well. He has also served as a commercial arbitrator. Mr. Chupack has experience with both bench and jury trials, and also with appeals. He is considered to be very intelligent, a good researcher, and a patient person with high integrity. He has lectured on legal topics and is a past president of the Decalogue Society of Lawyers. In addition, he has been active with the ISBA on the Real Estate Section Council and the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee. Mr. Joel Chupack is found to be Qualified for election to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

13th Subcircuit

Vacancy of the Hon. Clayton J. Crane

Gary W. Seyring (R) – Qualified

Gary W. Seyring has been licensed since 1978. He is a sole practitioner and a CPA focusing on domestic relations, real estate, estate planning, and business law. He does have litigation experience in those areas. It is reported that he has good legal knowledge and is diligent with a good demeanor. Mr. Gary W. Seyring is found to be Qualified for election to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Ketki “Kay” Steffen (D) – Highly Qualified

Ketki “Kay” Steffen has been licensed since 1991. In November 2015 she was appointed to the circuit court, assigned to the Third District, until December 2016. She is currently an arbitrator for the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission. She also served as a circuit court judge by appointment from 2010 – 2013 and was then appointed to be an Administrative Law Judge for the Illinois Compensation Commission from 2013 – 2015. Before her original appointment to the bench, Ms. Steffen spent nineteen years with the State’s Attorney’s Office where she obtained extensive litigation experience. She is considered knowledgeable in a variety of areas of law and is highly regarded by attorneys who have appeared before her. Ms. Ketki Steffen is found to be Highly Qualified for election to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Vacancy of the Hon. Jeffrey Lawrence

Daniel Patrick Fitzgerald (R) – Qualified

Daniel Patrick Fitzgerald was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1991. He is currently a litigation attorney for the Walgreen's Corporation, focusing on health care litigation from case evaluation to settlement. Prior to that position, he was on the staff of the Office of inspector General, Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services; General Counsel for the Illinois Racing Board; and an assistant attorney general. Attorneys reported that he has a thorough understanding of the entire legal process, and is very good at analyzing legal issues, with high integrity. He has been active with the Northwest Suburban Bar association and active with civic affairs in Barrington Township. Mr. Daniel Patrick Fitzgerald is found to be Qualified for election to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Shannon P. O’Malley (D) – Not Recommended

Shannon P. O’Malley declined to participate in the judicial evaluation process. Pursuant to ISBA guidelines, Mr. Shannon P. O’Malley is found to be Not Recommended for election to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Vacancy of the Hon. Ann O’Donnell

Christine Svenson (R) - Qualified

Christine Svenson was admitted in 1995. She opened her own practice in 2008 focusing on domestic, chancery, workers’ compensation, and tort matters. She is also a mediator and an arbitrator and did civil litigation with two firms. She has minimal jury trial experience and some bench trial experience. Most attorneys reported positive comments on her diligence and she is considered to have sound knowledge of workers’ compensation. She has community involvement. Ms. Christine Svenson is found to be Qualified for election to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Samuel J. Betar, III (D) - Qualified

Samuel J. Betar III has been licensed since 1983. He was appointed to a full circuit court judgeship in July 2017, after serving as an associate judge since 1998. Judge Betar is currently assigned to Municipal District 3 (Rolling Meadows) and to the Domestic Violence Division. Prior to his election as an associate judge, he practiced with several firms doing commercial litigation. He is considered to be fair, even-keeled and will always research when needed. He is a co-founder of the Arab-American Bar Association, and teaches new judges. Judge Samuel J. Betar III is found to be Qualified for election to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

15th Subcircuit

Vacancy of the Hon. Frank G. Zelezinski

Karla Marie Fiaoni (R) – Not Qualified

Karla Marie Fiaoni was admitted in1989. Since 2001 she has been a solo practitioner focusing on criminal defense, domestic relations and administrative hearings. Prior to opening her practice, she was an assistant state’s attorney for five years, both the police chief and superintendent for Chicago Heights, and the Project Director, Domestic Violence unit Chicago Heights. Reports from attorneys about her legal knowledge ranged from adequate to excellent; concerns were raised over her lack of complex cases, and also over reports that at times cases lingered too long unnecessarily. Incomplete and inadequate answers to the Alliance questionnaire also raised concerns about diligence and organization. Ms. Karla Marie Fiaoni is found to be Not Qualified for election to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Scott McKenna (D) – Qualified

Scott McKenna was admitted in 1996. He is currently a partner at Best, Vanderlaan & Harrington, concentrating on civil litigation. He joined that firm in 2005,
after working at several other private firms. He has substantial civil jury experience, and is considered to be well-prepared, even-keeled and punctual. He has lectured on legal issues. Mr. Scott McKenna is found to be Qualified for election to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

* * * * * * * * *
The ISBA provides an explanation of its judicial evaluation processes on this page of its website. The ISBA also evaluates judicial candidates Downstate -- which, in this usage, means everywhere outside Cook County. The Downstate evaluation process is also explained on the linked page.

ISBA narratives on retention judges now available

The Illinois State Bar Association has found all but three of the 59 Cook County Circuit Court judges seeking retention to be "qualified" for retention.

The ISBA's complete report on retention candidates can be found at this link.

The three judges singled out by the ISBA as not worthy of retention are Judges Lionel Jean-Baptiste, Andrea Schleifer, and James M. Varga.

Of Judge Jean-Baptiste, the ISBA states:
Judge Jean-Baptiste is assigned to Domestic Relations. Licensed to practice law in Illinois in 1991, he was in private practice before his election to the circuit court in 2012. He was previously assigned to First Municipal. He is a member of several bar associations and has received some community awards.

While he is generally considered to have a good temperament, attorneys raised concerns over the depth and breadth of his legal knowledge, his diligence and his courtroom management skills. They report, in general, that he needlessly continues matters ready for a hearing, does not wish to conduct trials, doesn’t always follow the law, and appears to mediate cases from the bench.

For the 2018 General Election, the Illinois State Bar Association finds the Hon. Lionel Jean-Baptiste not qualified for retention as a judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County.
With regard to Judge Schleifer, the ISBA reports:
Judge Schleifer is currently assigned to Domestic Relations. Admitted to the Illinois bar in 1979, she was mainly a sole practitioner until her appointment to the circuit court in 2011. She was subsequently elected in 2012. She was previously assigned to Forcible Entry and Detainer, and Traffic. She is active with many bar associations.

While acknowledging that she has been very active in efforts to foster diversity and inclusions, and her long experience, attorneys were very divided in their assessment of her current legal knowledge and ability and temperament. Some felt that she was outstanding, while others reported that she either does not know the current law or does not apply it properly. These same attorneys also reported concerns with her temperament and that, at times, she appears to be close-minded. Some of these attorneys also reported that there were times when she appeared to be unsure of, or incorrect about, the status of cases before her.

For the 2018 General Election, the Illinois State Bar Association finds the Hon. Andrea M. Schleifer not qualified for retention as a judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County.
As to Judge Varga, the ISBA states:
Judge Varga is assigned to the Law Division – Trial Section. Licensed to practice law in 1978, he was both an assistant state’s attorney and a private practitioner before his election to the circuit court in 1994. He has been retained three times, and was previously assigned to the Law Division. He has done some writing on legal issues.

Attorneys do speak highly of his legal knowledge, his punctuality and his fairness. Concerns about temperament, however, have been an ongoing issue, and while Judge Varga has taken some steps to ameliorate those concerns, attorneys report that those issues still exist, and that he does not, perhaps, recognize the ongoing extent of the issue.

For the 2018 General Election, The Illinois State Bar Association finds the Hon. James M. Varga not qualified for retention as a judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Tribune announces choices for retention ballot, contested subcircuit seats

Updated and corrected, October 17, 2018

I begin, as I almost always seem to do when talking about the Tribune, with a complaint.

In yesterday's editorial announcing its preferences on Cook County judges seeking retention this November, the Tribune intones:
This year, 59 Cook County Circuit Court judges are seeking retention. They’re near the end of the ballot, listed in seemingly random order. How are you supposed to cast an informed vote?
Did you pick up the objectionable phrase?

If you said "seemingly random order" give yourself a gold star for critical news-reading abilities.

As the Tribune editorialists know, or should know, judges are listed on the retention ballot grouped according to seniority. Judges with equal seniority (those first taking office on the first Monday in December in the year in which they were first elected) are listed in alphabetical order. In this election, there are judges seeking retention for were first elected in 1988, 1994, 2000, 2006, and 2012.

Now, perhaps that's too windy an explanation for the dwindling cadre of newspaper readers. I understand.

But, if a newspaper need not always educate, it can at least try to avoid being misleading. If the Tribune had merely said that the retention judges are listed "in order of seniority," that would at least be accurate, if not entirely complete. And that more accurate phrase would be shorter than the Tribune's choice of "seemingly random order," if only by a couple of letters.

The Tribune urges a "yes" vote for all judges seeking retention, with three exceptions.

The exceptions are Judges Maura Slattery Boyle, Matthew Coghlan, and Lisa Ann Marino. The Tribune's comments concerning each (along with their respective 'vote no' punch numbers) were as follows:
228: Judge Maura Slattery Boyle was rated “not qualified” by the Council of Lawyers. The group says she can be insensitive to criminal defendants and “issues very harsh sentences” compared to other judges. We’re more concerned about her track record for having cases reversed on appeal. The council’s report cites two examples in which the Appellate Court found evidentiary errors so serious that it sent the cases back with instructions to assign them to a different judge. That undermines confidence in our criminal justice system.

232: Judge Matthew Coghlan also was rated “not qualified” by the Council of Lawyers, which cited a case in which the Appellate Court twice overturned his decision not to grant a rehearing for a defendant who said he’d confessed to murder after being tortured by detectives working for disgraced Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge. Remarkably, the Cook County Democratic Party — which routinely urges a “yes” vote on all Democratic judicial candidates, regardless of performance — is recommending a “no” vote on Coghlan. That’s based largely on his alleged role as a prosecutor in two wrongful convictions.

314: The Chicago Bar Association singled out Judge Lisa Ann Marino as not worthy of retention. Elected in 2012, she apparently got off to a very bad start. The group’s investigation raised “significant concerns about Judge Marino’s work ethic, punctuality, diligence and knowledge of the law.” Cook County voters should demand more from a $202,000-a-year employee.
Not mentioned in the Tribune editorial, of course, is that Judges Slattery Boyle and Coghlan were both rated "qualified" for retention by the Chicago Bar Association. Also not mentioned is that Judge Marino was rated "qualified" by the Chicago Council of Lawyers.

So the Tribune's message is really we rely on the bar groups only when they agree with the conclusions we've already reached.

This, of course, is the Tribune's prerogative -- but why does the newspaper hide behind the bar associations?

Well, historically, newspaper editorials sprang naturally from newspaper reporting: The Daily Bugle would run five or six articles about corruption charges leveled against Alderman Filch or Congressman Grab and then publish an editorial calling for their resignations, defeat at the polls, or perhaps flogging in the public square.

However, a Lexis search this morning shows that, aside from mentioning Marino's election in 2012 (and an editorial at that time in which she was not endorsed for election), the Tribune never mentioned her name until yesterday's editorial. But Judge Marino is assigned to the First Municipal District’s Housing Section and also sits in the Mortgage Foreclosure/Mechanics Lien Section of the Chancery Division. The Tribune seldom covers civil courts.

Because they serve in the Criminal Courts, Judges Slattery Boyle and Coghlan pop up fairly often in a Lexis search of Tribune stories. But the late Jon Burge is not mentioned in any Tribune news story naming Coghlan. The Antonio Nicholas case that drew the particular attention of the Chicago Council of Lawyers was never mentioned in a Tribune news article. The word "harsh" was never used in a Tribune news article in conjunction with a sentence handed down by Judge Slattery Boyle; the word "reverse" or "reversal" pops up only once in a Tribune news story, from 2007, in which Judge Slattery Boyle allowed bond in the case of an 84-year old man accused of murdering his wife (Slattery Boyle reversing another judge's decision to deny bond entirely). Not once did a Tribune news story mention Slattery Boyle being reversed by an appellate court.

In contested subcircuit elections, the Tribune today announced the following choices:
12th Subcircuit, Maki vacancy

Democrat Joel Chupack, of Northbrook, was rated “highly qualified” by the Chicago Bar Association, which praised his “knowledge of the law, legal scholarship, legal ability and excellent temperament.” His private practice focuses on real estate law, and he has worked extensively as an arbitrator. Republican David Studenroth, of Glenview, is a former prosecutor who now is a criminal defense attorney; he also is a fine candidate. In a close call, our endorsement goes to Chupack.

13th Subcircuit, Crane vacancy

There are two familiar names in this race. Our endorsement goes to Republican Gary W. Seyring, a veteran litigator who is also a certified public accountant. Seyring, of Schaumburg, is a solo practitioner with four decades of experience, with emphasis on estate and tax planning and real estate, business and domestic relations law. Democrat Ketki “Kay” Steffen, of South Barrington, is a former prosecutor who served previously by appointment to the Circuit Court bench and as an administrative law judge for the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission. Seyring is endorsed.

13th Subcircuit, Lawrence vacancy

Republican Daniel Patrick Fitzgerald, of Barrington, got mixed reviews from bar associations. He’s still the easy choice in this race. Currently senior counsel for the Walgreen Co., Fitzgerald’s resume includes work for the Illinois attorney general’s office, the Illinois Racing Board and the office of the inspector general for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. While the CBA says “his court and trial experience is limited,” the Chicago Council of Lawyers found him qualified. Democrat Shannon P. O’Malley, of Hoffman Estates, ducked the evaluations and got thumbs down across the board. That goes for us, too. Fitzgerald is endorsed.

13th Subcircuit, O’Donnell vacancy

The CBA rated Republican Christine Svenson of Palatine “not recommended” based largely on harsh criticism from the Illinois Appellate Court over an appeal she filed that didn’t follow court rules, raising doubts about her legal ability. The Council of Lawyers noted “a few client complaints concerning her diligence” but found her qualified overall. The unambiguous choice is Samuel J. Betar III, a Barrington Democrat who was appointed a circuit judge last year after several years as an associate judge. He capably manages a busy courtroom, mentors new judges and is praised by the lawyers who appear before him. Betar is endorsed.

15th Subcircuit, Zelezinski vacancy

The Council of Lawyers says Republican Karla Marie Fiaoni, a former prosecutor and police chief of Chicago Heights, is a “zealous advocate” for her clients. The CBA gave her its highest rating and praised her “integrity, excellent demeanor, knowledge of the law and legal ability.” Four others, including the Illinois State Bar Association, said she’s not ready to be a judge. Her private practice focuses on criminal defense and family law. Democrat Scott McKenna of Tinley Park is better prepared for the job. McKenna is a veteran civil litigator with experience at the trial and appellate level. He is a partner and principal trial attorney in a private firm for which he also hires and mentors new attorneys. McKenna is endorsed.

IVI-IPO says no to three retention judges

The Independent Voters of Illinois - Independent Precinct Organization has recommended a "no" vote for three Cook County judges seeking retention on the November ballot. Singled out for a "no" vote by the group are Judges Maureen Slattery Boyle, Matthew E. Coghlan, and Mike McHale.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Resources for early voters looking to make informed choices about judges on the November ballot

Cook County judges seeking retention in 2018
Limited early voting is already underway for the November election, and the opportunities and locations for early voting will expand considerably on October 22.

So some visitors here may be looking to do their due diligence and figure out how to make informed choices about the many judicial races on the November ballot.

There are two types of judicial races on the ballot. First, there are elections to fill judicial vacancies -- to replace judges who have left the bench. For most Cook County voters, there are no choices to make here. All countywide races were decided in the March Democratic Primary; so too were most of the subcircuit races.

There are five exceptions. Voters in the 12th and 15th Subcircuits have to decide one contest in each of their respective subcircuits. Voters in the 13th Subcircuit will have choices in the election of three judges.

The second type of judicial race on the ballot is the retention election. Here, voters get to decide whether judges who were elected (for the most part) six years ago (or any multiple of six) shall be retained in office.

This year, there is one Supreme Court justice and one Appellate Court justice on the retention ballot. Justices of these courts are elected to 10 year terms. But, like their colleagues on the Circuit Court bench, they must also face the voters on the question of whether they shall be retained in office.

There are 59 Circuit Court judges seeking retention this year.

Some voters find the sheer number of retention candidates to be intimidating. But the Chicago Bar Association and the 11 bar groups that together comprise the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening have reviewed all the judges seeking retention and have weighed in with their opinions. The retention judges also have their own website that you can visit for information about jurists seeking to remain in office. (The photograph that accompanies this post was taken from that website.)

What follows are links to FWIW posts regarding the bar associations' evaluations of retention candidates and candidates seeking election in the five contested subcircuit races. You will note that opinions regarding some of these candidates differ. But this information will, hopefully, be of some use to voters:
If you're not voting early -- or not voting early yet -- check back with FWIW frequently. I'll be providing additional information and resources whenever I can.

And if you are voting early, I have some bad news for you: It won't make the commercials stop. I asked.

Chicago Bar Association releases ratings for candidates in contested subcircuit races

Voters in the far north-suburban 12th Subcircuit and far south-suburban 15th Subcircuit will have a say in the election of one judge each. Voters in the far northwest suburban 13th Subcircuit will have a say in the election of three judges.

The Chicago Bar Association has issued ratings for the candidates in each of these contested races. (To access the complete CBA report for all judicial candidates on the November ballot, including retention candidates, can be accessed from this page of the CBA website.)

Here are the CBA's evaluations of candidates in the contested subcircuit contests:

12th Subcircuit

Vacancy of the Hon. William O. Maki

JOEL CHUPACK --- HIGHLY QUALIFIED

Joel Chupack is “Highly Qualified” for the office of Circuit Court Judge. Mr. Chupack was admitted to practice law in Illinois in 1982 and is currently practicing with a small firm concentrating in real estate, probate, and civil litigation. Mr. Chupack has extensive practice experience and is highly regarded for his knowledge of the law, legal scholarship, legal ability, and excellent temperament. Mr. Chupack, who is actively involved in the legal profession, has published numerous legal articles and is a frequent speaker at continuing legal education seminars.

DAVID STUDENROTH --- QUALIFIED

David Studenroth is “Qualified” for the office of Circuit Court Judge. Mr. Studenroth was admitted to practice law in Illinois in 1987 and is currently engaged in private practice concentrating in criminal matters. Mr. Studenroth has extensive trial experience and is well regarded for his knowledge of the law, legal ability, diligence, and excellent temperament.

13th Subcircuit

Vacancy of the Hon. Clayton J. Crane

GARY WILLIAM SEYRING --- QUALIFIED

Gary William Seyring is “Qualified” for the office of Circuit Court Judge. Mr. Seyring was admitted to practice law in Illinois in 1978 and is currently engaged in private practice concentrating in family law, real estate, business law, and wills, trusts and estates. Mr. Seyring has commercial litigation experience and is well regarded for his knowledge of probate, tax and family law. Mr. Seyring is actively involved in community service and highly regarded by the judges before whom he has appeared.

KETKI SHROFF STEFFEN --- QUALIFIED

Judge Ketki Shroff Steffen is “Qualified” for the office of Circuit Court Judge. Judge Steffen was admitted to practice law in Illinois in 1991 and was first appointed to the Circuit Court in 2010. Judge Steffen served on the bench for two years and presided over traffic, civil and criminal domestic violence cases. From 2013 to November 2015, she served as an Administrative Law Judge Arbitrator for the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. Judge Steffen was reappointed to the Circuit Court in 2015 and is currently assigned to the First Municipal District where she presides over forcible detainer cases. Judge Steffen is diligent and highly regarded her knowledge of the law, judicial ability, and integrity.

Vacancy of the Hon. Jeffrey Lawrence

DANIEL PATRICK FITZGERALD --- NOT RECOMMENDED

Daniel Patrick Fitzgerald is “Not Recommended” for the office of Circuit Court Judge. Mr. Fitzgerald was admitted to practice law in Illinois in 1991 and is currently senior in-house counsel for a large corporation. Mr. Fitzgerald has worked as an in-house counsel for twelve (12) years and represents the company in a variety of civil litigation matters. Mr. Fitzgerald’s prior legal experience includes: serving as a law clerk to a Cook County Chancery Court Judge (2 years); Chicago’s Office of Inspector General (3 years); General Counsel, Illinois Racing Board (3 years); and Assistant Illinois Attorney General (6 years). While Mr. Fitzgerald has had a broad range of experience, his court and trial experience is limited. He does not possess the depth and breadth of legal knowledge and practice to effectively serve as a Circuit Court Judge.

SHANNON P. O’MALLEY --- NOT RECOMMENDED

Shannon P. O’Malley declined to participate in the Judicial Evaluation Committee (JEC) screening process and, therefore, according to The Chicago Bar Association’s governing resolution for the JEC, is automatically found NOT RECOMMENDED.

Vacancy of the Hon. Ann O’Donnell

SAMUEL J. BETAR, III --- HIGHLY QUALIFIED

Judge Samuel J. Betar, III is “Highly Qualified” for the office of Circuit Court Judge. Judge Betar was admitted to practice law in Illinois in 1983 and has served as a judge since 1998. Judge Betar has mentored new judges and has spoken at the state judicial conference. Judge Betar is actively involved in community service and is highly regarded for his knowledge of the law, effective management of his courtroom, and outstanding temperament.

CHRISTINE SVENSON --- NOT RECOMMENDED

Christine Svenson is “Not Recommended” for the office of Circuit Court Judge. Ms. Svenson was admitted to practice law in Illinois in 1995 and is currently a solo practitioner concentrating in family law, employment law, election law, and workers’ compensation matters. Concerns about Ms. Svenson’s knowledge of the law, legal ability, and practice experience were raised in the wake of harsh criticism that she received from the Illinois Appellate Court for not following the Appellate Court Rules in a recent appeal that she was handling. Ms. Svenson does not possess the requisite depth and breadth of legal knowledge and practice experience to effectively serve as a Circuit Court Judge.

15th Subcircuit

Vacancy of the Hon. Frank G. Zelezinski

KARLA MARIE FIAONI --- HIGHLY QUALIFIED

Karla Marie Fiaoni is “Highly Qualified” for the office of Circuit Court Judge. Ms. Fiaoni was admitted to practice law in Illinois in 1989 and is currently in private practice concentrating in criminal defense and domestic relations matters. Ms. Fiaoni has extensive trial and practice experience and is highly regarded for her integrity, excellent demeanor, knowledge of the law, and legal ability.

SCOTT MCKENNA --- QUALIFIED

Scott McKenna is “Qualified” for the office of Circuit Court Judge. Mr. McKenna was admitted to practice law in Illinois in 1996 and is a partner in a small law firm concentrating in civil litigation and insurance defense. Mr. McKenna has extensive practice experience and is well regarded by his peers for his knowledge of the law and legal ability.

* * * * * * * * *
A complete explanation of the process followed by the Chicago Bar Association in evaluating judicial candidates is found in the "Judge Smart" Guide that can be accessed from the web page linked in the second paragraph of this post. Some excepts from that explanation follow:
The Investigative Process

The Committee's work begins when the candidate submits his or her completed questionnaire. The 16-page questionnaire for sitting judges, require the candidate to list personal, professional and judicial references and to provide the names of lawyers who have recently appeared before him or her. Candidates with fewer than four years on the bench are also asked to identify adversaries with whom they worked before taking the bench. Lawyer candidates are asked to provide detailed information about their jury and non-jury trial experiences, the names of five judges before whom they have appeared and a list of at least 20 lawyers who have represented adverse positions in matters handled by them.

All candidates are also asked to relate any present or recent health problems and to submit written authorizations signed by their doctors. Complaints against a candidate to the Attorney's Registration and Disciplinary Commission and the Judicial Inquiry Board are to be described, and relevant reports and correspondence submitted with the questionnaire. Criticism of professional misconduct, in any formal civil or criminal proceeding or in the media, must also be reported by the candidate.

The JEC obtained written materials dealing with the candidates' judicial performance from the major newspapers. In several cases, transcripts and other relevant, publicly available documents relating to official investigations of judges and court personnel were obtained from official sources.

The complete file was then assigned to a two-person investigation team. The investigators conducted personal interviews with the listed legal references. A specially assigned team of investigators reviewed the files of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and submitted to the investigators and the hearing panel a report on the information disclosed in those files. On completion of the interviews and a review of the file materials, the investigations team completed a comprehensive report regarding the qualifications of the candidate.

The Hearing Process

Hearings were conducted on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on Saturday mornings. Hearing division members were randomly assigned, in accordance with the JEC resolution, to either of two hearing rooms by a blind drawing for room assignment. Typically, 12 to 15 JEC members were assigned to each room. Only at that time did they learn which candidates they would be evaluating and who the other members of the panel were. Each member of the hearing panel was provided with a copy of the investigator's report, a copy of the completed questionnaire with all material submitted by the candidate, and copies of any other relevant documents including, in some cases, newspaper clippings and transcripts of court proceedings.

Each member and the candidate execute a written oath to keep the nature and content of the report, questioning, and hearing confidential.

The JEC included in its investigation all possible sources of information available to it. However, because the Committee cannot compel the production of evidence or the attendance of witnesses before it nor, understandably, expect disclosure by the authorities of evidence discovered in pending investigations, the JEC cannot be assured that it has uncovered all the evidence which, in the future, may lead to formal charges. Within its authority, the JEC develops the most complete record available and gives careful and thoughtful consideration to the available evidence.

A member of the Executive Committee chaired each hearing. The candidate was advised of the procedures to be employed at the hearing and then questioned at length by the chair in regard to abilities, experiences, perceived strengths and weaknesses and, where appropriate, specific problems disclosed in the investigation. The chair then invited questions from members of the hearing panel. The candidate was then given an opportunity to make any statement he or she chose in his or her own behalf. On excusing the candidate from the hearing room, the chair then opened the floor to discussion of the candidate's qualifications among the panel members. Only after the members had been given the opportunity to openly voice their opinions was the issue of the finding of the JEC put to a vote.

The Vote

The hearing panel members voted by secret ballot and were asked to rate the candidate as “Highly Qualified,” "Qualified" or "Not Recommended.” The JEC’s governing resolution provides that to be found “Highly Qualified,” the candidate must receive that rating on 80% of the ballots. To be found “Qualified” the candidate must receive a favorable rating on 60% of the ballots. The failure of a candidate to receive 60 percent affirmative vote results in a finding of "Not Recommended." Each hearing panel member was also asked for written comments on the candidate’s qualifications, areas worthy of commendation and areas of needed improvement. Following a tabulation of the vote, the chair reviewed and capsulized the written comments in preparing the statement of reasons given in support of the Committee's finding.