Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Cook County Democratic Party to screen judges seeking retention?

That was the rumor -- and I was told there was some serious discontent in the ranks as a result.

And for good reason: The retention election is expressly made non-partisan by Article 6, Section 12 (d) of the 1970 Illinois Constitution (which provides in pertinent part, emphasis mine, "The names of Judges seeking retention shall be submitted to the electors, separately and without party designation, on the sole question whether each Judge shall be retained in office for another term").

But the rumor is not entirely correct.

Yes, the Democratic Party is going to be looking at the qualifications of judges seeking retention, according to Jacob Kaplan, the Executive Director of the Cook County Democratic Party. In an email to FWIW, Kaplan acknowledged that "several committeemen" had become "concerned with the fact that the Party has historically recommended a YES vote on ALL retention judges in its mailings and literature for the November election" -- even those few judges originally elected as Republicans -- even though, sometimes, not "ALL" judges might be worthy of retention.

The result, Kaplan said, was the adoption of a new bylaw by the Cook County Central Committee at a January 11 meeting. Newly added Section 5 of Article VI of the Bylaws now provides:
The Executive Committee of the Cook County Democratic Party shall have the authority to recommend to the Central Committee whether to withhold endorsement from any judge(s) on the retention ballot, upon good cause shown by any member(s) of the Central Committee. “Good cause” may include consideration of bar association, peer and other ratings and reviews; public proceedings before, or discipline and sanctions imposed by, the Judicial Inquiry Board or the Illinois Supreme Court; a vacancy in office as defined by the Illinois Election Code; and misconduct bringing the office of judge into disrepute. The Central Committee may adopt, in whole or in part, such recommendation not to support retention.
According to Kaplan, new Party Chair Toni Preckwinkle has begun formation of a retention committee, which "will likely be tasked with determining if there is 'good cause' to recommend a non-endorsement of any judges up for retention in the November election."

While no formal process is yet in place, any negative recommendations would have to be approved by the full Central Committee (all 80 ward and township committeemen), Kaplan said.

Personal Opinion Clearly Labeled as Such: Whether this initiative will inject an unwelcome partisanship into the retention process will depend on how it is implemented.

I don't know for certain that it will happen, not in light of her recent conviction, or in light of the Illinois Supreme Court's order of April 26 suspending her from the practice of law, but Jessica O'Brien could still be on this year's retention ballot. I am quite certain that some committeemen would be squeamish about supporting "ALL" retention candidates if she is among them.

If a criminal conviction is what is meant by "good cause," then I can understand what the Democratic Party is doing here.

On the other hand, "good cause," according to the text of the new bylaw, may also include "consideration of bar association, peer and other ratings and reviews." There is concern in many quarters that some bar groups have, at least sometimes, allowed political and ideological considerations to seep into the judicial candidate evaluation process. One does not need much imagination to see how this innocent-sounding reform could further politicize the bar rating process.

Still, maybe it's a tempest in a teapot: Who cares if the Democratic Party says "no" to 10 or 20 or even 30 retention judges? The Party's endorsement is no guarantee of election -- we've seen this often enough -- so why would a negative recommendation be the 'kiss of death' for a retention candidate? Second City Cop will urge a "no" vote on all retention judges at some point; it has in every recent election cycle. The Tribune always picks out a few as deserving a "no" vote, and bar groups seldom support "ALL" retention judges. And yet, for a couple of decades now, every single retention judge -- even one found not guilty of battery by reason of insanity -- has been retained in office.

Of course, it's easy for me to suggest that a Democratic Party retention committee poses no cause for alarm: My livelihood is not dependent on getting 60% + 1 of the vote this November. And I'd be the first to agree that I'd rather have the Party's support than otherwise.

But I would assume -- and I would expect -- that the Cook County Democratic Party would be wary of expending too much political capital trying to say "no" to too many retention hopefuls. It would not make a lot of sense for the Democratic Party to take a stand against a retention candidate unless the defects in that candidate were so obvious that the Party would be cheered even if the effort to defeat a candidate failed.

I've written in every election cycle that the default vote for all retention candidates is "yes." Voting no on a particular candidate requires a good reason. If that's the approach the Party takes with its retention committee, things should be fine. But we must remain vigilant to avoid the merest taint of partisan politics in the retention election. Politics should have no place in retention elections.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Jack must be flushing comments again.

Jack Leyhane said...

Anon 5/10 @ 11:57 a.m. -- No, not yet.

Actually, you and ALL CAPS are the only ones who have commented on this post so far.

I live in hope that all comments will be thoughtful and reasoned and not personal attacks. I am frequently disappointed, of course.