Friday, August 16, 2013

Three questions predominate at judicial slating sessions

Cook County Board President and 4th Ward Committeeman Toni Preckwinkle or Norwood Park Township Committeeman Robert F. Martwick generally asked the first two questions; Rich Township Committeeman Tim Bradford (one of the Party's just-slated three nominees for the Water Reclamation District) almost always asked the third:
  1. If you are chosen for endorsement by the Party will you support the entire ticket?
  2. If you are not chosen for endorsement will you run against the ticket?
  3. The Party incurs certain costs on behalf of the ticket, for mailing and other expenses. Will you or your campaign be willing and able to raise the $30,000 necessary to defray those expenses?
Not every one of the 44 judicial hopefuls who appeared at the slating session Thursday at the Hotel Allegro got asked these three questions -- but most did.

When asked, certain answers were expected: Yes, no and yes.

Not all candidates were willing to meet these expectations. Questions 1 and 3 weren't the problem.

Justice Shelly Harris told the Party's Supreme and Appellate Court Selection Committee that he wouldn't want to run against the ticket if he was not nominated -- but, he said, "It's my seat and I've got to fight for it." Harris was not slated. He was named the Party's second alternate choice -- which means that two of the 18 elected justices must retire or die within the next 12 weeks or so before he would have the Party's backing. (There are 24 justices in all in the First District, but six are Circuit Court judges who sit by appointment of the Supreme Court.)

Justice Harris holds his current position by appointment. He was originally appointed to the Circuit Court in 2000 but lost his bid to hold his seat in the 2002 primary. He was subsequently recalled to judicial service, most recently in 2010. A recall appointment is not an appointment to a specific vacancy, and a recalled judge need not face the voters. Two years ago, however, the Supreme Court instituted a policy of not recalling to service previously appointed judges who were not subsequently elected in their own right. Justice Harris's appointment to the Steele vacancy earlier this year is consistent with the Supreme Court's current policy. Thus, Justice Harris must run -- or leave the bench.

Many prospective candidates gave all of the expected answers, even if they gritted their teeth while answering Question 2. Others tried to equivocate when responding to the question of whether they'd run without endorsement (as lawyers, our default response is "it depends" -- even though we demand them of witnesses, answers like "yes" or "no" are simply too definite for lawyers to easily provide).

David Ellis told the committeemen that he'd have to consult his advisers before making a decision whether to run against the Party, but he'd give the Party's decision "great weight" when he made up his mind. He was slated for the Appellate Court. Brendan O'Brien told the Circuit Court Selection Committee that he'd give "great deference" to the slatemakers' decision, but he didn't commit to dropping out were he not endorsed. He was not endorsed. Judge Caroline K. Moreland said "she didn't plan on running against the Party," but she was the 31st of 32 candidates to appear before the Circuit Court Selection Committee and, by that time, no one tried to clarify that answer (it's a safe bet that most of the would-be candidates didn't plan on running against the Party -- they expected to run with the Party and hadn't fully contemplated the probability that they would not be endorsed). Judge Moreland was endorsed.

Still, it wasn't all sighs or clenched jaws when candidates answered Question 2. Attorney Richard C. Cooke said that, if the Committee would not endorse him this time, "consider this my 2016 kick-off then." We've been warned. Cooke was not slated.

All judicial hopefuls appearing before either selection committee had provided résumés and other supporting documentation; all committeemen in attendance were given binders containing these materials. Included in attorney Donna Makowski Rivera's packet was a glowing letter of recommendation from Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, OP, the Superintendent of Schools for the Chicago Archdiocese. She mentioned it in her remarks. Aren't you worried about a possible "backlash," one committeeman asked, having support from a prominent Catholic official? It struck me as an odd question. Backlash? If Chicago isn't as Catholic as it once was, many Chicagoans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, still identify themselves as being 'from St. So-and-so's.' Makowski Rivera was not slated, so the question of possible backlash may never be answered.

As the long day wore on, moments of levity leavened the proceedings. Many occurred in response to Question 3.

Not every judicial candidate was a fourth-generation precinct captain. But many lawyers contemplating a move to the bench have done well in their careers (or they have friends who have done well) so they could answer the $30,000 question with some enthusiasm. "I don't think it's enough!" exclaimed one candidate -- and someone hollered out, "She's in!" Another said he could "write the check right now," to which one committeeman called out, "how much did we say the contribution was, 35?" "No," chimed in another, "I'm sure we said 40."

At this point, the candidate leaned into the microphone. "Now I'm just a mark," he said, and the room erupted.

A couple of male candidates answered the $30,000 question with, "yes, but don't tell my wife." The first one to use the line got a laugh. The second one to try it got a more negative response. "That's been done already," shouted one committeeman. A female candidate told the group that she could afford the contribution because "I married well." Another candidate said she could raise the money "if each of you give my campaign $375." The math works; the concept was foreign to a number of the committeemen. One committeeman, however, singing the praises of this candidate, promised to raise $5,000. Then another committeeman rose to echo what his colleague had just said, "except for the $5,000 part."

All committeemen are not created equal, and I do not refer solely to the weighted vote that each of the 80 has (based on turnout in the last primary election). Some committeemen are more popular among their peers than others. Second Ward Ald. and Committeeman Bob Fioretti would probably admit that he falls into the less popular category. Thus, when James L. Byrne came in to make his pitch to the committee and said that he worked for both 40th Ward Committeeman Pat O'Connor and Fioretti, cries of "uh oh," went up in the room. These were loud enough that Byrne stopped and leaned back into the microphone. "I had to," he said, "I live in the 2nd Ward."

Another moan went up, perhaps a quieter one. Ald. Fioretti was sitting right in front of me, however, and I distinctly heard him mutter, "Right answer." From the other side of the room, Ald. O'Connor also chimed in: "Anyone who can work for two of us simultaneously has a high tolerance for pain." Most of the committeemen laughed, but Byrne was not slated.

A number of candidates made it a point to mention the support they had (or thought they had) from various committeemen. When Patricia O'Brien Sheahan was at the microphone, she emphasized that she had the support of her home committeeman, State Rep. Lou Lang of Niles Township. Lang was sitting at the head table at the time, facing the room. He made an exaggerated shrug at just that moment, to the great amusement of his peers. But Sheahan was slated.

Ald. and Committeeman Michelle Smith of the 43rd Ward was among those who regularly questioned candidates about their bar ratings. First time candidates did not have all of theirs in yet. A couple admitted that they'd not been recommended by the Chicago Bar Association. One was asked whether he had appealed the adverse rating. Yes, he told the group, but unfortunately the CBA had just denied his appeal. None of the candidates who confessed poor bar ratings was slated.

Every candidate, of course, promised to campaign hard for the ticket if selected. Kristal Rivers, however, may have found the best way to express that promise: If slated, she promised, "I will wear out the shoe leather on my best shoes" working for the ticket. Rivers was slated.

The Cook County Central Democratic Committee today ratified the choices of the selection committees (see posts immediately below). As a result, a few campaigns may now fold. Others will refocus on the subcircuits. The Cook County Democratic Party does not slate candidates in the subcircuits. Slating there is done by the committeemen whose wards or townships are included within each subcircuit.


Albert said...

Great work on this.

Anonymous said...

Amazing - any other tidbits?

Anonymous said...

This just makes me sick. The first question that should be asked of these lawyers is: How many trials have you conducted? A judge sits in a courtroom after all.

Anonymous said...

Poor Justice Harris. Nice person and a top guy on the bench. it is just my opinion but he would have been slated if he was anything but a white male. You a print that because it is true !!!

Anonymous said...

I am an Illinois attorney who practices in Cook County. I will not vote for anyone on this slate and recommend to all to do likewise. How on Earth can the party endorse candidates because who they are married to, and that person may have very little, if any, real trial practice. Is there any question as to why the Judges in Cook County are sub-par. Preckwinkle needs to be thrown out of office for her role in this.