Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Why does the Sun-Times have a beef against Robert Kuzas?

Judicial candidate Robert D. Kuzas is singled out on the Sun-Times editorial page today as "another example of how firmly politicians continue to control who sits on the Cook County bench."

The newspaper's editorial agitation stems from a Watchdogs column, by Tim Novak and Chris Fusco, in yesterday's paper entitled, "How a white police attorney got a West Side judge seat."

Kuzas isn't on the bench yet; he is unopposed, however, for the late-opening Hardy-Campbell vacancy in the 7th Subcircuit.

And it was a late-opening vacancy. Had it been announced only a few days later, it would have triggered the special filing period provisions of §7-12(1) of the Election Code, 10 ILCS 5/7-12(1). The second paragraph of §7-12(1) provides,
Where a vacancy occurs in the office of Supreme, Appellate or Circuit Court Judge within the 3-week period preceding the 106th day before a general primary election, petitions for nomination for the office in which the vacancy has occurred shall be filed in the principal office of the State Board of Elections not more than 92 nor less than 85 days prior to the date of the general primary election.
In the 2014 primary season, there were no additional vacancies to trigger the additional filing period (which would have run from December 16 to 23). A special filing period was necessary to accommodate a last-minute Circuit Court vacancy during the 2010 primary season; the death of Appellate Court Justice Robert Cahill triggered a special filing period during the 2012 season as well. The resignation of Judge Hardy-Campbell must have come right at the cutoff for the regular filing period (that would have been November 11, 2013, 21 days exactly before the close of the regular petition filing period on December 2).

The Sun-Times indicates that Kuzas' would-be challenger, Mable Taylor, had only 19 days to gather up her petitions; that suggests she found out about the vacancy on November 13. I had news of the vacancy posted 17 days before the filing deadline, on November 15. According to the Hearing Examiner designated by the Cook County Electoral Board to evaluate the challenges to Taylor's petitions, the Illinois State Board of Elections did not know about (or certify) the Hardy-Campbell vacancy until November 14, 2013, 18 days before the filing deadline. (Hearing Examiner's Report and Recommended Decision, Rockford v. Taylor, 13-COEB-JUD-36 at ¶16, citing the Affidavit of ISBE Deputy Director Kenneth Metzel.) Interestingly, according to the Hearing Examiner's Report, a few of Taylor's challenged petition sheets were apparently notarized before the Hardy-Campbell vacancy was certified. (Report at ¶17.)

(Why the discrepancy between the date of the judge's resignation and the date on which the ISBE certified the existence of a new vacancy? I'm not privy to the exact mechanics, but there are channels that must be gone through when a judge retires, for obvious reasons.)

Whether it's 21, 19, or 18 days, though, there was not a lot of time to print proper petitions and obtain 1,000 valid signatures. In her haste to meet the deadline, Taylor mustered 4,807 signatures, but only 685, or 315 less than the required amount were found to be valid. The Hearing Examiner stated, "The several noted discrepancies suggest to the Hearing Examiner that there was far more than carelessness or unintentional mistakes in the submissions of the noted Circulators of the Candidate, Mable Taylor’s nomination papers for the Office of Judge of the 7th Judicial Subcircuit" (Report at ¶19). On the other hand, the Hearing Examiner expressed her opinion that "while the Candidate, Mable Taylor, did not participate in the []bad behavior of the Circulators, her having hired a petition gathering company, Mr. Jet’s Petitions, her reliance on their process was to her detriment" (Report at ¶20, emphasis in original).

In my opinion, the Sun-Times is not wrong to suggest that this very compressed period of time for circulating nominating petitions favors the well-funded, better-connected sort of candidate as opposed to the 'nobody that nobody sent.'

Of course, the time period used to be shorter.

In late 1985, some may recall, a Cook County judge's sudden retirement triggered a vacancy three hours before the close of the filing period -- and, lo and behold, 80 minutes later, a candidate walked into the State Board of Elections in Springfield ready to file for that vacancy with the then-necessary 500 signatures all present and accounted for. It was truly a miracle of precision timing... but the January 18, 1986 Chicago Tribune reported that Judge Prentice Marshall threw out a suit seeking to prevent that candidate from being certified for the ballot, stating that he found no evidence that the retiring judge conspired with the well-informed candidate to prevent anyone else from seeking the vacancy.

Three weeks, or most of three weeks, is surely better than three hours. I could agree with the Sun-Times that more time would be better still -- but, wherever the line is drawn, someone may find themselves on the wrong side of it. Such is the harsh nature of deadlines.

The part I'm having trouble with is why the Sun-Times seems so upset with Mr. Kuzas in particular. It can't be because his supporters attacked his would-be opponent's petitions, could it? Attacking petitions may not exactly be the most courteous thing to do, but it certainly is legal and FWIW readers will recall that, in this primary season, there were a number of judicial races (including the race for the other 7th Subcircuit vacancy) in which every single candidate's petitions were challenged. In anticipation of the 1996 primary, supporters of a then-obscure community organizer brought petition challenges in their candidate's State Senate race. With the challenges upheld and the field cleared of competition (including the incumbent State Senator), the community organizer won election unopposed. The then-obscure community organizer is now President of the United States.

Clearly, Mr. Kuzas has some important friends among political leaders in the 7th Subcircuit. According to Rock and Fusco's Watchdogs piece, Kuzas obtained "the endorsements of black political figures including Secretary of State Jesse White and White’s protégé, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th)." Today's editorial also notes the support Kuzas received from Ald. Jason Ervin (28th). But Kuzas was also rated Qualified or Recommended by every single bar association. So it's not as if Mr. Kuzas has only political skills or connections, at least in the view of the various bar associations.

Still, I shed no tears for Mr. Kuzas. I do not know the man, but he has put himself into the public arena by running for judge and, as Finley Peter Dunne said a century ago, "Politics ain't beanbag." But I don't understand why the Sun-Times felt the need to cast aspersions on Mr. Kuzas in order to make an otherwise valid point about the desirability of greater ballot access. As a long-time 'nobody that nobody sent,' I am in sympathy with the Sun-Times on this goal. If I were Philosopher-King, I would demand less restrictive ballot access rules, lowering the signature requirements perhaps, and making it easier to survive petition challenges. But since neither I nor the Sun-Times editorial writer will ever reign as Philosopher-King, all hope of reform lies with the political process, a process that requires building coalitions, even with politicians. How does a seemingly gratuitous slap at an apparently qualified judicial aspirant further the stated goal of ballot reform?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When the subcircuits were first set up only 500(valid)signatures were required to get on the ballot. When too many people nobody sent ended getting elected the numbers changed making it tougher for kitchen table campaigns to make it. The subcircuit boundaries have not changed since the first election of 1992, even though there have been population (and demographic) changes. It is certainly no longer "one person-one vote" as far as numbers go. Additionaly, in looking at the demographics, the 7th Subcircuit is very different from 1992. It includes River Forest, Berwyn and Cicero, which were never black to begin with, and parts of the Near West Side which are less black now. The Sun Times fuss over "white" candidates being elected in a "black" subcircuit is somewhat misguided. As you note Mr. Kuzas has passed all the bar association evaluations. Judges are not (or should not be) representatives of any particular group's agenda. Would the earth stop spinning on its axis if it turned out someday a qualified 40ish African_American female got elected from a Northwest Suburban subcircuit? Why should it stop for a qualified 50ish white male getting elected from a West Side/ West Suburban subcircuit?