Friday, September 16, 2016

The headline is Judge Evans wins a sixth term, 129-103

The Tribune article (which I tweeted out last night) says some are calling this a repudiation. But, then, to hedge, it quotes Professor Dick Simpson as saying, in politics, a one-vote win is still a win.

In other words, close counts only in horseshoes and hand grenades.

But one very interesting part of the story was the assertion that "several" eligible voters did not show up. Given the recent allegations about no-show judges, that's a pretty loaded word-choice. Let's examine this statement.

According to the Tribune there were 241 judges eligible to vote. If we add up the number of votes reported, we get 231. So that means 10 judges who could have voted weren't there. Ten votes which, if voted as a bloc, would not have changed the outcome.

By my ciphering, 231 actual out of 241 possible is a 95.85% turnout. Given the far-flung nature of the Cook County court system, the difficulty for some in coming downtown from a remote work location during the rush hour and then turning around and heading back... well, have you seen the Kennedy or the Ryan or, really, any "expressway" heading into the City during rush hour?

There could be other reasons why someone might choose not to go. I'm sure you can think of some (and, no, I'm not inviting speculation in this regard).

I don't know who didn't appear... but 95.85% attendance sounds a lot better than "several of the 241 judges able to vote [were] not in attendance." Both, technically, are accurate. But the phrase used puts a more negative spin on the turnout than the alternative available. Do you think that was an accident?

It is important to read any news story with a skeptical eye. Are the writers (or someone on the copy desk, assuming these still exist) taking sides?

The Tribune was certainly not plumping for Evans in this election. The recent spate of articles certainly played up the expressions of support from the African-American community that Chief Judge Evans received in the days leading up to yesterday's vote. I've linked to some of these in recent posts. In the Tribune article linked here, it is reported that Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown endorsed Evans. (Among judges, would that endorsement really have helped Evans? I can't imagine it swayed any actual voter.) In the Tribune account, one judge is quoted as expressing resentment that some African-American ministers had threatened to organize a big "no" vote on retention candidates if Evans was not returned as chief. But I sure didn't see whether anyone asked the ministers if they were aware that Evans himself is among the judges standing for retention this year. Reading the articles casually could create an impression that the Chief Judge contest had become another manifestation of racial polarization -- but, if one read closely, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who has long had public disagreements with Judge Evans, was said to be one of the "party leaders" working for his ouster. Her office denied it, and there's no way we can know, one way or the other, who's telling the truth.

And that's the point.

We should strive to form opinions based on facts, and refrain from formulating more than working hypotheses where facts are uncertain. Just because we are inclined to agree with a newspaper article doesn't make it more accurate, or less accurate, than one with which we are inclined to disagree. We have to examine the motives of the writers and publishers of any news account. We have to notice what questions weren't asked, or which answers weren't reported. By refraining from forming fixed and definite opinions based on uncertain facts we can face up to our own biases and potentially overcome them.

The farther one is from a news story, that is, the less one knows personally about the events reported, the more likely it is that one will accept uncritically the slant put forward by those media outlets we are inclined to follow. My current favorite illustration of this is the difference between Candidate Obama---who was absolutely certain that Guantanamo Bay must be shut down immediately---and President Obama who, in nearly eight years, hasn't done that. I assume Candidate Obama was entirely sincere; I know President Obama is not entirely powerless. So there must be another explanation, presumably based on Mr. Obama having better personal knowledge now than he had when first running for office. Seemingly sharp edges, seen from a distance, may grow fuzzy and indistinct on closer inspection. And every lawyer who's ever had any kind of a high-profile case can cite flaws in any news coverage of that matter.

Some readers will be happy this morning that Judge Evans was retained. Some will not. (Others will be too geeked by the Cubs backing into a division title overnight to care.) But all might benefit by taking a moment to evaluate how we analyze this news story and what lessons we can draw from it about analyzing news accounts generally.


Anonymous said...

Oh Jack, Oh Jack. You made my heart go all " a flutter" with your analysis. My naturally curly hair looks so pretty after reading this blog. Black Lady Who Reads.

Anonymous said...

Losers: Allen; Burke AND Burke; Preckwinkle; Dart; Berrios; Pethers; Patrick Murphy; Tom Murphy; Mary Ann Mason; Bernstein AND Bernstein; Ramos.

Winners: Evans and everyone that wanted to keep their good government positions.

Anonymous said...

So glad to see Evans re-elected as a big "GOOD RIDDANCE" to Judge Pethers - take your whining walking!

Anonymous said...

Results say more about the electorate than candidates. Seems like the majority of Judges have been complaining about Evans and calling for change for years. Yet half of them failed to pull the trigger. Big thumbs up to the almost half that were not intimidated by the racially motivated threats by some black media and black religious organizations. Seems to me that a little over half of the judges really have no balls. Too bad - but I can't say I'm surprised.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many judges would have voted against Evans for a more qualified candidate like Jacobius. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Allen has ever been presiding judge of any division or has even supervised a judge. And I feel pretty comfortable saying his seat in chancery wasn't due to his brilliant judicial mind. So maybe this was less a referendum on Evans than a lack of confidence that Allen was the guy capable of doing any better.

Anonymous said...

Congratulation on winning this round, Judge Evans. Let's see how well you do on your retention when the entire county electorate decides whether you remain on the bench. Can't be chief if you don't get retained on November 8. The boys in 11,13, 14, 18, 19, 23, 38 and Worth Township send their regards. You wanted to make this about race, well congratulations. They are going to make this about YOU and just YOU. They will do it with the help of the good government people in Oak Park, Evanston and your old ward and its boss, you know her name: T-O-N-I. Perhaps Carrie Austin can scare 58 cowardly retention judges, but she can't scare the entire electorate of cook county. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Judge John Roberts said...

Jacobius???? if the Irish couldn't pull it off what chance do you think the Jews would have?

Anonymous said...

Incremental improvements upon unsatisfactory circumstances are the best we can hope for, and probably all we should seek. That view may be too pessimistic but the stark reality is that Thomas Allen was not going to implement any real reforms to our judiciary.

Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know.

Anonymous said...

@Annon 09-17-16 3:42 = Don't those same wards have their own candidates up for retention? Sounds like a blood bath plan to me!

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:42: I'm shaking out my curls. You sound angry. So much so that you take this fun blog that has a touch of seriousness at times and you spout off veiled threats. Tsk tsk. Stop reading Briebart. Petty Jesus really worked on you didn't he? Be careful because Petty Jesus will make you act so dumb that you will trip over a wireless network.

Anonymous said...

Will the Trib come out and say don't retain Evans?