Friday, October 12, 2018

Tribune announces choices for retention ballot, contested subcircuit seats

Updated and corrected, October 17, 2018

I begin, as I almost always seem to do when talking about the Tribune, with a complaint.

In yesterday's editorial announcing its preferences on Cook County judges seeking retention this November, the Tribune intones:
This year, 59 Cook County Circuit Court judges are seeking retention. They’re near the end of the ballot, listed in seemingly random order. How are you supposed to cast an informed vote?
Did you pick up the objectionable phrase?

If you said "seemingly random order" give yourself a gold star for critical news-reading abilities.

As the Tribune editorialists know, or should know, judges are listed on the retention ballot grouped according to seniority. Judges with equal seniority (those first taking office on the first Monday in December in the year in which they were first elected) are listed in alphabetical order. In this election, there are judges seeking retention for were first elected in 1988, 1994, 2000, 2006, and 2012.

Now, perhaps that's too windy an explanation for the dwindling cadre of newspaper readers. I understand.

But, if a newspaper need not always educate, it can at least try to avoid being misleading. If the Tribune had merely said that the retention judges are listed "in order of seniority," that would at least be accurate, if not entirely complete. And that more accurate phrase would be shorter than the Tribune's choice of "seemingly random order," if only by a couple of letters.

The Tribune urges a "yes" vote for all judges seeking retention, with three exceptions.

The exceptions are Judges Maura Slattery Boyle, Matthew Coghlan, and Lisa Ann Marino. The Tribune's comments concerning each (along with their respective 'vote no' punch numbers) were as follows:
228: Judge Maura Slattery Boyle was rated “not qualified” by the Council of Lawyers. The group says she can be insensitive to criminal defendants and “issues very harsh sentences” compared to other judges. We’re more concerned about her track record for having cases reversed on appeal. The council’s report cites two examples in which the Appellate Court found evidentiary errors so serious that it sent the cases back with instructions to assign them to a different judge. That undermines confidence in our criminal justice system.

232: Judge Matthew Coghlan also was rated “not qualified” by the Council of Lawyers, which cited a case in which the Appellate Court twice overturned his decision not to grant a rehearing for a defendant who said he’d confessed to murder after being tortured by detectives working for disgraced Chicago police Lt. Jon Burge. Remarkably, the Cook County Democratic Party — which routinely urges a “yes” vote on all Democratic judicial candidates, regardless of performance — is recommending a “no” vote on Coghlan. That’s based largely on his alleged role as a prosecutor in two wrongful convictions.

314: The Chicago Bar Association singled out Judge Lisa Ann Marino as not worthy of retention. Elected in 2012, she apparently got off to a very bad start. The group’s investigation raised “significant concerns about Judge Marino’s work ethic, punctuality, diligence and knowledge of the law.” Cook County voters should demand more from a $202,000-a-year employee.
Not mentioned in the Tribune editorial, of course, is that Judges Slattery Boyle and Coghlan were both rated "qualified" for retention by the Chicago Bar Association. Also not mentioned is that Judge Marino was rated "qualified" by the Chicago Council of Lawyers.

So the Tribune's message is really we rely on the bar groups only when they agree with the conclusions we've already reached.

This, of course, is the Tribune's prerogative -- but why does the newspaper hide behind the bar associations?

Well, historically, newspaper editorials sprang naturally from newspaper reporting: The Daily Bugle would run five or six articles about corruption charges leveled against Alderman Filch or Congressman Grab and then publish an editorial calling for their resignations, defeat at the polls, or perhaps flogging in the public square.

However, a Lexis search this morning shows that, aside from mentioning Marino's election in 2012 (and an editorial at that time in which she was not endorsed for election), the Tribune never mentioned her name until yesterday's editorial. But Judge Marino is assigned to the First Municipal District’s Housing Section and also sits in the Mortgage Foreclosure/Mechanics Lien Section of the Chancery Division. The Tribune seldom covers civil courts.

Because they serve in the Criminal Courts, Judges Slattery Boyle and Coghlan pop up fairly often in a Lexis search of Tribune stories. But the late Jon Burge is not mentioned in any Tribune news story naming Coghlan. The Antonio Nicholas case that drew the particular attention of the Chicago Council of Lawyers was never mentioned in a Tribune news article. The word "harsh" was never used in a Tribune news article in conjunction with a sentence handed down by Judge Slattery Boyle; the word "reverse" or "reversal" pops up only once in a Tribune news story, from 2007, in which Judge Slattery Boyle allowed bond in the case of an 84-year old man accused of murdering his wife (Slattery Boyle reversing another judge's decision to deny bond entirely). Not once did a Tribune news story mention Slattery Boyle being reversed by an appellate court.

In contested subcircuit elections, the Tribune today announced the following choices:
12th Subcircuit, Maki vacancy

Democrat Joel Chupack, of Northbrook, was rated “highly qualified” by the Chicago Bar Association, which praised his “knowledge of the law, legal scholarship, legal ability and excellent temperament.” His private practice focuses on real estate law, and he has worked extensively as an arbitrator. Republican David Studenroth, of Glenview, is a former prosecutor who now is a criminal defense attorney; he also is a fine candidate. In a close call, our endorsement goes to Chupack.

13th Subcircuit, Crane vacancy

There are two familiar names in this race. Our endorsement goes to Republican Gary W. Seyring, a veteran litigator who is also a certified public accountant. Seyring, of Schaumburg, is a solo practitioner with four decades of experience, with emphasis on estate and tax planning and real estate, business and domestic relations law. Democrat Ketki “Kay” Steffen, of South Barrington, is a former prosecutor who served previously by appointment to the Circuit Court bench and as an administrative law judge for the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission. Seyring is endorsed.

13th Subcircuit, Lawrence vacancy

Republican Daniel Patrick Fitzgerald, of Barrington, got mixed reviews from bar associations. He’s still the easy choice in this race. Currently senior counsel for the Walgreen Co., Fitzgerald’s resume includes work for the Illinois attorney general’s office, the Illinois Racing Board and the office of the inspector general for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. While the CBA says “his court and trial experience is limited,” the Chicago Council of Lawyers found him qualified. Democrat Shannon P. O’Malley, of Hoffman Estates, ducked the evaluations and got thumbs down across the board. That goes for us, too. Fitzgerald is endorsed.

13th Subcircuit, O’Donnell vacancy

The CBA rated Republican Christine Svenson of Palatine “not recommended” based largely on harsh criticism from the Illinois Appellate Court over an appeal she filed that didn’t follow court rules, raising doubts about her legal ability. The Council of Lawyers noted “a few client complaints concerning her diligence” but found her qualified overall. The unambiguous choice is Samuel J. Betar III, a Barrington Democrat who was appointed a circuit judge last year after several years as an associate judge. He capably manages a busy courtroom, mentors new judges and is praised by the lawyers who appear before him. Betar is endorsed.

15th Subcircuit, Zelezinski vacancy

The Council of Lawyers says Republican Karla Marie Fiaoni, a former prosecutor and police chief of Chicago Heights, is a “zealous advocate” for her clients. The CBA gave her its highest rating and praised her “integrity, excellent demeanor, knowledge of the law and legal ability.” Four others, including the Illinois State Bar Association, said she’s not ready to be a judge. Her private practice focuses on criminal defense and family law. Democrat Scott McKenna of Tinley Park is better prepared for the job. McKenna is a veteran civil litigator with experience at the trial and appellate level. He is a partner and principal trial attorney in a private firm for which he also hires and mentors new attorneys. McKenna is endorsed.


Anonymous said...

Your explanation regarding how the retention judges are listed on the ballot is itself misleading, incomplete or just plain wrong. The judges are listed by seniority with judges of equal seniority being listed alphabetically. "When they were first elected" is not the measure (at least for many). A judge appointed in 2008 and elected in 2010 would have more seniority than a judge who first takes office after being elected in 2010. In that scenario, the appointed judge would be listed on the retention ballot above the "newly elected" judge. If you doubt this, go back and look at the 2016 retention ballot. Judges are only listed alphabetically if they assume office on the same day, i.e., equal seniority.

"Seemingly random order"? No. But definitely designed to make it more difficult for a voter to find a particular name on the ballot.

Jack Leyhane said...

OK, Anon 10/12 @1:52 -- you got me. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I just sat down with my sample ballot and started browsing my archives on judges elected in 2012 -- and appointed prior thereto. And I'm going down the ballot... Garmath (appointed 6/10/10), Propes (appointed 9/10/10), Brewer (11/1/10), Schleifer (11/16/10), Allen (12/6/10), Reddick (also 12/6/10)....

But wait!

MacCarthy wasn't appointed to the bench before being elected -- not that I recall, and not that I found in my archives -- but, with that exception, the pattern holds... Jean-Baptiste (3/4/11), Clancy (5/27/11), Scannicchio (7/5/11), Marsalek (10/3/11)....

So I should have just stuck with "in order of seniority" and not been so darn smug. I'll probably update soon....

But what about MacCarthy?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

None of it matters because only the women will win. Down with the patriarchy!

Anonymous said...

Castrate the patriarchy! Women are marching to the polls and then to claim their robes. 2018 retention turn-over.

Jack Leyhane said...

@Anon 10/12 @1:52 -- Better now?

Still haven't figured out MacCarthy though.

Worth repeating: serves me right for being so smug.

Anonymous said...

I just voted no for all of them EXCEPT for Coghlan. The way his cockroach “colleagues” abandoned him at the first sign of trouble told me that they were unworthy of retention. And the Sun-Times can run all the puff pieces about Dickler, Sheehan and Walker but it doesn’t matter: dump them all.