Friday, August 11, 2017

Should slated judicial candidates be obliged to "contribute" $40,000 to the Democratic Party?

Thirty-third Ward Committeeman Aaron Goldstein (pictured at left) is the man who unseated legendary Committeeman Dick Mell. He is also an attorney who works as a supervisor in the Cook County Public Defender's Office.

In this morning's Chicago Sun-Times Committeeman Goldstein answers the question posed in the headline of this post with a resounding "no": "This practice needs to stop. Now."

Goldstein offers four reasons for his opinion (and explains each of these points in his piece, which I encourage you to read in full):
  1. It leads to a perception of corruption.
  2. It distracts from the principal issues in slating judicial candidates.
  3. It harms the slated candidate.
  4. It does not represent the costs claimed.
It does seem, well, unseemly when you think about it... an awful lot like a quid pro quo... you give us 40k and we'll slate you....


Are all quid pro quos bad things? I give Jewel $182; it gives me a cart full of groceries. I give the local gas station $32.18; I get a full tank of gas. Open and transparent. Totally above board.

On the other hand...

How can you equate paying Jewel for groceries with paying the Cook County Democratic Party for making some lucky, faithful party supporter into a judge?

Well, that would look bad. Except... 40k doesn't make anyone a judge. That's not the quo for the quid. All the party promises is slating.

There was a time, not within the living memory of any Millennial, or even most of the Gen-Xer's, when slating was tantamount to election -- unless one was slated for a suburban 'suicide squad' run. Readers of this blog know that slating these days carries with it no guarantee of election. I have previously suggested that all a candidate gets for $40,000 is credibility and access.

Even in those misty, far-off days of Daley I it was not much different:
Once slated for office, the candidate is expected to carry his own load as part of the ticket. The central committee does very little except to arrange appearances for him at the various ward and township organizations during the campaign. He is expected to raise his own campaign funds, establish his own campaign office, do his own advertising, and reach those segments of the electorate to whom he supposedly has the greatest appeal on behalf of the ticket. In fact, a candidate for a major office, rather than getting campaign funds from the county central committee, is expected to make a major contribution to the county central committee for the privilege of being slated for office by the party. He is also expected to buy tickets for every ward and township organization dinner dance, picnic, and golf day.
Milton L. Rakove, Don't Make No Waves, Don't Back No Losers, p. 98 (Indiana University Press, 1975).

There is one major difference in terms of what the Democratic Party does, or doesn't do, for its candidates these days as opposed to the days of yore. Today, although the party still gathers signatures for all candidates, a slated candidate is also expected to help out with his or her own nominating petitions. In Professor Rakove's day, after he managed a place on the county ticket (in 1970, in a 'suicide squad' race for a suburban seat on the Cook County Board), he came to the realization that he had no idea how to get the signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot. He promptly repaired to party headquarters to ask Chairman Daley's office manager, Mary Mullen, what he should do. "She responded, pointing to a stack of petitions on a table, 'See that pile over there on that table? Those are your signatures, 8,000 names. This is an organization we are running here.'" (Dont Make No Waves..., p. 99, n. 1.)

Because the Democratic Party can apparently no longer guarantee that it can, on its own, garner sufficient signatures to make all of its candidates' nominating petitions 'bullet-proof,' the day may come when a duly slated Democratic Party candidate gets knocked off the ballot. But that hasn't happened yet. Right now, almost any judicial candidate would rather be slated than not slated.

So -- and maybe this is because I've been steeped too long in a simmering sea of corruption and cynicism -- I don't necessarily see a transparent $40,000 judicial candidate assessment as a totally bad thing. It is a campaign expense, one that most judicial wannabes would be only too pleased to pay (even if they'd have to throw a lot of fundraisers to accumulate it), not much different from the fee charged by the election lawyer, the campaign consultant, the printer, the web designer, and so on.

On the other, other hand, though, does slating really mean unanimous support from all 80 Democratic Party Committeemen?

FWIW readers know the answer here. And several committeemen -- the 47th comes to mind -- have already made endorsements in judicial races. Will any of these endorsements be rescinded if the rest of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee fails to concur in these recommendations?

Other ward and township organizations will have endorsement sessions later on; several will diverge from the 'official' slate in one or more races. History ain't bunk: Sometimes past performance really is a great indicator, if not an outright guarantee, of future results.

And, less publicly, as the primary draws near, some ward or township organization---and I do not here refer solely to one headed by an upstart, independent, progressive or goo-goo (whatever term you prefer)---will abandon one or more slated judicial candidates in favor of some candidate who has somehow won the favor of the committeeman. This will probably happen in more than just one 'regular' ward or township. Check the archives. It happens, to a greater or lesser extent, in every election cycle.

If I buy a toaster at Target, and I take it home, and plug it in... and it promptly belches smoke and fire, I take the toaster back to the store and demand (and expect) a refund. I didn't get quo for my quid; I want my quid back.

When various Democratic committeemen 'dump' a slated candidate, does the Cook County Democratic Party ever offer at least a pro rata refund?

I think we all know the answer to that one.

Therefore, on balance... although I'm sympathetic to Committeeman Goldstein's position (if for no other reason than I'll never have $40,000 to spare on my own)... what is the alternative? Say assessments are outlawed. Does anyone seriously expect that Democratic Party slatemakers would not consider past contributions to party causes in making future slates? The quid pro quo issue would still be there, but now it would be pushed underground... and made to look dirtier, I think.

Look, I agree with Committeeman Goldstein that "the party should be focused on promoting qualified, ethical and fair candidates that represent our diverse county. Period." But I think he asks too much if he thinks the party would not also want, and expect, and in some sense be entitled to, the support of those good people that it chooses to promote. Keep the assessment public -- and, slated candidates, watch that toaster for the first sign of smoke!

Keep your comments civil and don't get personal -- I'd like to publish as many comments as I can.


Anonymous said...


Aaron Goldstein said...

Thank you Jack for your critique of my op-ed. I think my piece explains the issues you have with my opposition to the practice. I don't believe this is the same as buying a toaster from Target for many reasons. Most importantly, the judicial system should be hands off.
But the $40,00 makes no sense in terms of costs because if that amounted to expenses then why does the Party have to be the middle man? Let the candidate spend it themselves if they deem it appropriate. The Party may not be as successful in delivering victories as it once did. That shows that the $40,000 isn't that important as far as winning the election and it may be a detriment to winning because the perception is that those candidates "bought" their endorsement. I don't think the Party should worry about winning the elections as much as it should be concerned about the quality of the judges. And as the reputation changes from one of clout to qualification maybe we can win more elections because the public will know that when the Party endorses candidates they will know that they were endorsed because they were qualified.
This is something so important to me because I see it everyday--our justice system is too important.
Take care,
Aaron Goldstein

Anonymous said...

Not entirely correct. Election challenges are based on challenges to the individual candidate. So if you successfully challenge one but not the others, the others stay on. But what is true, however, is if there is a generic defect in their group petition and somebody knows about it and dares to tell the world, risking challenges to the entire slate. Well, let's just say that person is given a seat on the appellate court without an opponent. It has happened.

Anonymous said...

I have some questions.

1. How much would two countywide mailers cost an individual candidate? My understanding is that it would be well in excess of 40K. Last time, the party sent out two countywide mailers with the slate on them.

2. If a candidate doesn't have the ability to get them on their own, can someone tell me how much it would cost for 3x the signature requirement? I know they ask the candidates to help get signatures but they guarantee the signatures, regardless of how many signatures each candidate brings in. I hear signatures now cost $2/each. I'm not sure what the number needed is this time around for countywide.

3. Can someone tell me how much it costs to defend a challenge to someone's petition? I believe the party covers that as well by providing the party's election attorney to handle any challenges.

4. Would all of the above combined be well over 40K?

5.. And finally, can someone tell me who the last unqualified candidate was who the party endorsed?

Ramon Ocasio said...

Kudos to Committeeman Aaron Goldstein.

He gets it right on so many levels. A committeeman should support judicial candidates with merit, though I would respectfully suggest merit has no universal definition.

Here are a few thoughts:

1.) Can the judicial candidate uphold the trust that will be placed in their hands as stewards of our justice system?
2.) Are they either men or women of integrity?
3.) Do they have the temperament to judge kindly and humanely?
4.) Do they view their position as simply calling the balls & strikes?
5.) Are there any red flags about their suitability to hold a position of public trust?
6.) Can this person be trusted to do the right thing in a difficult situation?

I like the new independent committeemen of the 33th ward.

Anonymous said...

JUDGE Ocasio,
I was unaware sitting judges could comment on political matters, not dissimilar to sitting on judicial evaluation committees but what do I know? Jack, any insight?

Jack Leyhane said...

I believe I know what the applicable rules are -- Canon 4 (Sup. Ct. Rule 64) and Canon 7 (Sup. Ct. Rule 67). I don't know that the above comment, which I can not independently verify as coming from Judge Ocasio, runs afoul in any way of either.

Rule 64 provides, in pertinent part:

A Judge May Engage in Activities to Improve the Law, the Legal System and the Administration of Justice

A judge, subject to the proper performance of his or her judicial duties, may engage in the following law-related activities, if in doing so the judge does not cast doubt on his or her capacity
to decide impartially any issue that may come before him or her.

A. A judge may speak, write, lecture, teach (with the approval of the judge’s supervising, presiding, or chief judge), and participate in other activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice.
B. A judge may appear at a public hearing before an executive or legislative body or official on matters concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice, and he or she may otherwise consult with an executive or legislative body or official, but only on matters concerning the administration of justice....

Rule 67 provides, in pertinent part:

A Judge or Judicial Candidate Shall Refrain from Inappropriate Political Activity

A. All Judges and Candidates.

(1) Except as authorized in subsections B(1)(b) and B(3), a judge or a candidate for election to judicial office shall not:
(a) act as a leader or hold an office in a political organization;
(b) publicly endorse or publicly oppose another candidate for public office;
(c) make speeches on behalf of a political organization;
(d) solicit funds for, or pay an assessment to a political organization or candidate.

* * *

B. Authorized Activities for Judges and Candidates.
(1) A judge or candidate may, except as prohibited by law:
(a) at any time
(i) purchase tickets for and attend political gatherings;
(ii) identify himself or herself as a member of a political party; and
(iii) contribute to a political organization.

* * *

C. Incumbent Judges.
A judge shall not engage in any political activity except (i) as authorized under any other provision of this Code, (ii) on behalf of measures to improve the law, the legal system or the administration of justice, or (iii) as expressly authorized by law.

* * *

I am neither the Supreme Court nor the JIB nor the Courts Commission... but, unless I'm missing something, comments like the one above (assuming it is in fact from Judge Ocasio) do not strike me as violating the Canons or even skating close to the edge. Readers?

Anonymous said...

Jack, even if something is not prohibited it may still not be a good idea to do it. I think we all can agree on that.

Judge Ocasio needs to shut-up and get his hands away from his keyboard if he really submitted the above comment to this blog. Assuming he did; how stupid in my opinion. Oh, and you like the new Committeeman of the 33rd Ward, Judge Ocasio? That would have nothing to do with the fact that the old Committeeman of the 33rd Ward endorsed and slated Ed Lechowicz, who opposed you when you ran for judge in 2006? How surprisingly transparent your motives are Judge.

(Thank you Jack for giving me a forum to say something that I could never say to his face in his courtroom.)

Anonymous said...

I'd love to respond to #5, but there is a character limit on these comments.