Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Two vacancies attract several in 5th Subcircuit

An additional judgeship is up for grabs this year in the Fifth Subcircuit along with the vacancy of Judge Bernetta D. Bush.

Candidates filing in these races so far are:
  • Nkrumah Lumumba Hopkins
  • Jackie Marie Portman
  • Dominique C. Ross
  • Furmin D. Sessoms
  • Stephen Stern
  • Andre Thapedi
  • Helen Paxton
Four of these candidates filed for both vacancies. Helen Paxton filed only for Additional Judgeship A. Nkrumah Lumumba Hopkins and Furmin D. Sessoms filed only for the Bush vacancy. Judge Sessoms was only recently appointed to this vacancy by the Supreme Court; readers may recall the tension between the Supreme Court and the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening that resulted from that appointment.

According to Sullivan's Judicial Profiles, Sessoms holds an undergraduate degree from the University of California-Berkeley and a law degree from Georgetown. Licensed in Illinois since 1990, Sessoms began his legal career with the Cook County Public Defender's Office. After a seven-year stint in private practice, Sessons rejoined the PD's office, this time as "as chief of the 4th Municipal District Office and, immediately prior to joining the bench, as Deputy Public Defender."

The Cook County Bar Association gave Sessoms its Harold Washington Award for community service in 2001. He's also been active in the National Bar Association, serving on the editorial board of its NBA Magazine. Sessoms has also served as executive director of the Chicago Southside NAACP chapter.

Nkrumah Lumumba Hopkins is a solo practitioner with an office on East 53rd Street. An attorney since 1998, Hopkins' listing in Sullivan's says he focuses on real estate, probate and bankruptcy matters. Jackie Marie Portman, a lawyer since 1999, is making her second run for the bench. She finished fourth in the 2004 primary contest for the Cox vacancy, about 18,000 votes behind the winner, Edward Washington, II. Portman is employed by the City of Chicago Office of Professional Standards.

Dominique C. Ross has been a lawyer since 1995. She maintains a solo office at 26th and Michigan. Her Sullivan's listing says she concentrates in family law and real estate matters.

Stephen Stern is a former president of the Cook County Bar Association. He too has a solo law office; his is in the Loop. Stern ran for the Greene-Thapedi vacancy in the 5th Subcircuit in 2006, finishing third behind the winner, Diane M. Shelley.

Andre Thapedi finished second in that same race. He is the son of former Circuit Judge Llwellyn L. Greene-Thapedi, with whom he is now in practice. Thapedi was an honors graduate of The John Marshall Law School and was admitted to practice in 1996. An article in the March 2006 issue of the Chicago Lawyer by Libby Sander noted that, before becoming a lawyer, Thapedi was arrested a number of times on "charges ranging from disorderly conduct to criminal trespass." However, the article noted, "All of the charges were dropped, and Thapedi was never convicted of any of the charges filed against him, according to court records." The article quotes John Marshall associate dean Linda R. Crane as 'vouching for Thapedi's character.' According to Sander's article, Crane described Thapedi "as a 'superstar student' who kept a hectic pace of academics and extracurricular activities, including competing in two national moot court competitions simultaneously, one of which he won," adding that Thapedi also served as president of the Black Law Students Association.

The last of the named candidates, Helen Paxton, presents something of a problem for me: There is no listing for any Helen Paxton on the ARDC website, nor can I find her in Sullivan's.

I do not for a moment suggest that Ms. Paxton is not an attorney. If she were not, however, she could not be elected as a judge. I would hope that the candidate, or someone who knows her, can leave a comment or send an email that resolves my confusion.

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