Monday, March 29, 2021

Technically, the judge was not 'carjacked'

And CBS2, which was among the outlets reporting the unnamed judge's misfortune, corrected the text of its article when it updated this story late Saturday. (Some initial accounts said the judge had been carjacked.)

According to the story, the judge "was near a business on the 3400 block of South Ashland Avenue around 11:55 a.m., when someone got into her car and fled the scene, after she left the key fob inside the vehicle." The ABC7 account (above) suggests the judge was pumping gas when the car was stolen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Still time to enter Law Day Youth Civics Contest

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association are reaching out to educators, students, parents, "fans of American Civics", and aspiring filmmakers about their inaugural Law Day Youth Civics Contest.

Law Day is celebrated on May 1st each year and celebrates the role of law in our society and aims to foster greater understanding of the legal profession.

To celebrate Law Day, students enrolled in 6th to 12th grades are invited to submit a video recording which answers the question, “why are the courts important?” Videos may not exceed two minutes and must be the original work of the student/students.

Group entries are permitted, but if selected as a winning entry, only one prize will be awarded to the group. All members of the group must be in the same grade level cohort (6th to 8th or 9th to 12th), and each member must submit an entry form.

The deadline for submissions is 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Entries will be judged on how they demonstrate understanding of constitutional principles, clarity and effectiveness in expressing the theme, and originality/creativity.

A $500 first-place winner, a $250 second-place winner, and a $100 third-place winner will be chosen from each grade level cohort (6th to 8th grade, 9th to 12th grade). The teacher or organization leader (i.e. scout leader or club advisor) who referred winning students to the contest will receive a $50 Target gift card for classroom or club materials.

Winners will be announced the week of April 26, 2021.

The fillable entry form can be downloaded here. Video entries and entry forms must be submitted here.

Here's the fine print:

Missing the submission deadline, providing false or incomplete entry information, or not residing within the district are grounds for disqualification. Entries by children, step-children, grandchildren, siblings of employees of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois will not be considered.

The Northern District of Illinois includes the following counties: Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, La Salle, Will, Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside, Winnebago.

Contest entries may be posted on court websites and materials, in the court history museum, and shared with outside organizations.

Questions about the contest may be sent to

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

41st Ward COVID-19 vaccination event kind of makes my point for me

This was in my email this evening.

No walk-ins. Appointments only.

No phone number for seniors to call. Only online registration.

Excerpt from Ald. Napolitano's email newsletter (emphasis and color as in original):

Appointments are required. If you are a Senior Citizen who has not yet been vaccinated, please click the link below to fill out a request form for an appointment. Appointment times will be issued randomly for March 30th. You will receive an email confirmation from Albertsons that will include your appointment time. Please be patient, it will take 24 to 48 hours to receive your email confirmation. Vaccines will be administered at Amazing Grace Senior Living located at 7432 W. Talcott Avenue. Our ward office will notify you if you do not receive an appointment.

I appreciate the efforts of Ald. Napolitano and the other elected officials who have arranged or sent out notices of similar events. I understand that they have to work with what the City gives them. But a lot of the intended audience for this item will receive notice only indirectly.... (*ring* *ring* Hello, Mom? Can I try and sign you up for a Covid shot on March 30?....) If one were really making seniors a priority, this would not be the way to do it.

Use 'em or lose 'em: Some facts and some observations about COVID-19 vaccinations

I truly wish the judges had gone somewhere other than Loretto Hospital. That said, however, there has been a lot of hot air expended concerning whether unused vaccines were at risk of being wasted.

I was recently directed to this article by Kwame Anthony Appiah on the New York Times Magazine website. (The accompanying illustration was lifted from that site.) In the course of answering a question from a 20-something reader about whether he should try and get in line for a COVID-19 vaccination, Professor Appiah provided some information that FWIW readers may find helpful (emphasis in original):

With anything perishable — whether it’s a head of lettuce or a defrosted carton of Covid-19 vaccines — you can have excess and spoilage amid an overall shortage. The minimum Pfizer vaccine order is a tray with about 1,200 doses; once the vials begin thawing, they have to be used in five days. With all the authorized vaccines, a vial, once opened, must be used within six hours — for Johnson & Johnson’s, it’s two hours at room temperature. Each Pfizer vial has up to six doses. Johnson & Johnson, which has a minimum order of 100 doses, puts five doses in a vial; Moderna will soon put 14 doses in each vial.

The point is that vaccines don’t come as “loosies.” Vaccination sites can misjudge the number of sign-ups, and even if everything is properly planned, there are sometimes no-shows. Even when a site has a standby list of qualified recipients, there will be occasional instances in which a vaccine will go to waste unless the eligibility rules are suspended.

None of this excuses Loretto Hospital arranging vaccinations at jewelry stores or suburban churches instead of in its own Austin community. And, as indicated, the vaccination site should have a "standby list" of qualified recipients to default to when extras become available. That's how my wife got her vaccination -- because she was a qualified person (a teacher) on a standby list. had a roundup item this morning on vaccine availabiity Downstate. Among the items was this one, from Metropolis, Illinois (about as far away from Chicago as you can get and still be in Illinois), saying that walk-ins are now being accepted for vaccinations there.

I wish walk-ins might be accepted here, at least when leftovers might be available at the end of a vaccination center's appointment schedule, but that's not going to happen here any time soon. So even a responsible vaccination center may have to face the prospect of wasting vaccine -- which surely is a sin and a shame when so many are so anxious to get it -- or else bending, or ignoring, eligibility standards.

The Washington Post had an interesting graphic article last August, by Harry Stevens, entitled, "A vaccine, or a spike in deaths: How America can build herd immunity to the coronavirus." My takeaway: Herd immunity does not depend on vaccinating people in any certain order; rather, it depends on getting a critical percentage of persons vaccinated. In other words, even when the "ineligible" receive vaccinations out of turn, the population as a whole is benefitted. That should not be seen as a license to ignore the priorities set by the public health officials -- but it is a reminder that there is a benefit to the public from every shot that goes into an arm. Any arm.

The other thing that should be kept in mind is that all of these controversies should fade into irrelevance as vaccines become more widely available. That situation improves with every passing week. Only, apparently, not as fast in Chicago as elsewhere.


Related: Rep. Ford resigns in protest from Loretto Hospital board (coverage on

Statement from the Chief Judge's Office regarding judges invited to receive vaccinations at Loretto Hospital

The Office of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans released this statement, reproduced here in full:

This is in response to press inquiries regarding some judges who are not in the county’s “1B” category receiving COVID-19 vaccinations at Loretto Hospital.

Judges who have received the shots were informed that the vaccines were already mixed and would be destroyed if not used by the end of the day, so they could get shots after 3:30 p.m., supply permitting. The Loretto Hospital website makes clear that COVID-19 vaccinations are given up until 3 p.m., so shots given after this would be surplus. Judges who received shots did not take shots away from other eligible persons, but used shots that would otherwise have been destroyed.

Currently, judges in Cook County who are under 65 are not classified as 1B, the group currently eligible for the vaccine. However, the Illinois Supreme Court’s position is that vaccines should be available for all court officials and staff that have regular contact with the public and others in congregate setting, and judges under 65 in many other counties have already been vaccinated, according to Supreme Court spokesman Chris Bonjean.

Despite multiple precautions taken by the Office of the Chief Judge to protect court personnel and members of the public during the coronavirus pandemic --which has included conducting most proceedings by videoconference and teleconference -- judges and other court employees have not been immune from this virus. A total of 282 employees of the Office of the Chief Judge and 21 judges have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

COVID-19 vaccination is to protect against a deadly virus, and judges under 65 who have been able to get these shots violated no ethical rules, but acted in a responsible manner to protect themselves, their loved ones and the public, while not taking shots away from others in the 1B category.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Updating: WBEZ had named the names of judges offered vaccine at Loretto Hospital several readers have pointed out, mostly in tones of outrage. Here's the link.

Here is the excerpt that names the names:

The 13 judges who were sent the email invitation from [Judge Diann] Marsalek were: William Sullivan, Susanne Groebner, Celia Gamrath, Michael Hogan, Athanasios Sianis, Krista Butler, Cara Smith, Daniel Tiernan, Lindsay Huge, Lynn Weaver Boyle, Patricia Sheahan, Clare Quish and Joe Panarese.

Here, however, is the bottom line regarding the alleged line jumping:

It’s unclear if any of them got the shots through that offer or brought others with them for vaccines at Loretto. WBEZ sent messages to all 13 judges and none of them would comment. Loretto’s CEO, Miller, said federal health privacy law prevented him from discussing specific cases.

The real news is that the City of Chicago has cut off Loretto Hospital from further supplies of City-controlled COVID-19 vaccines.

One might have thought that Loretto Hospital, at 645 S. Central, in the heart of a community hit especially hard by the COVID-19 virus, could be chastised, and publicly shamed, and thereafter more carefully monitored as it continued the vital mission of distributing vaccine in the area.

Of course, there have been further allegations about hospital management arranging to vaccinate people outside the Austin community, including members of the CEO's suburban Oak Forest church. I have received comments, some of them quite specific, that contend that nearly every Cook County judge had the opportunity to be vaccinated at Loretto, not just the 15 so far named by WBEZ. I have no idea what the City has been able to determine, but it is certainly possible that the City deemed the hospital beyond redemption.

The optics are bad for the judges. Granted. There is certainly an appearance of impropriety. Because the supplies of vaccine have been so limited, and there are so many people who so despearately want it -- and can't figure out how to get it.

But that, ladies and gentlemen, is the real problem here. None of this "excuses" the judges -- all of whom surely could have found ways to obtain vaccinations somewhere else than Loretto Hospital. But focusing on the judges takes the glare off the City of Chicago.

The City of Chicago has to take a huge amount of blame here.

Science teaches us that getting the vaccine into the arms of as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, will be the best way out of this mess. It really doesn't matter who gets vaccinated first in terms of developing true herd immunity. Only numbers count.

Common sense, empathy, and, yes, political reality, however, all demanded that we "prioritze" the vaccine rollout, especially because our initial supplies have been so limited: Vaccinating nursing home residents was the absolute first priority, since so many nursing home residents died from COVID-19. We could send people into the nursing homes with needles, and did, though not as fast as public health authorities wanted.

Communities of color were also hard hit by the disease, so it also made sense that the City would make these the next priority. But vaccines are still scarce, so the City had to limit availability, at least at the outset, to the elderly in those communities.

And that's where things went wrong.

And predictably so.

There is a well-documented inverse correlation between increasing age and decreasing computer literacy. And there is an equally well-documented digital divide or technology gap between Black and Brown communities, on the one hand, and European-descended communities on the other.

So... older people in communities of color are the least likely to be comfortable online, or even to have online access, and the City of Chicago rolls out its vaccination program for online registration only. No, you can't make a vaccination appointment when you pick up your prescriptions. No, you can't make a vaccination appointment when you see your doctor. Zocdoc is the City's preferred platform.

Is it any wonder that the City is lagging far behind the rest of the State on vaccinations?

And don't give me statistics about 'how many' have been vaccinated in Chicago as opposed to outside. Chicago is going to enter Phase 1C of the vaccination rollout on March 29, a week from today. The State says any resident 16 or older (Phase 2 of the rollout) will be able to register for vaccinations as of April 12. The City's target date for Phase 2 is currently May 31.

All public health authorities are aware that there is some... reluctance... some resistance... to vaccinations in communities of color. There are perfectly understandable historical reasons for this. So there was always going to be an element of persuasion in some areas in any large-scale vaccine rollout.

Why didn't the City partner with churches from the outset when starting large-scale distributions? Granted, the City had trouble getting some of them to close in the first place. And God forbid that some progressives miss any chance to forbid God.

But ramping up vaccine distributions through the churches would have given the churches the opportunity to resume operations, or resume full operations, and promote the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination, without computers. Older people would have had a level of comfort going to their churches for vaccinations that they'd never, ever get from Zocdoc. The politicians have no difficulty asking churches for help at election time. Why couldn't they have asked for their help on this? (And there are some churches now getting involved... not just those attended by officers of Loretto Hospital. Efforts were made along these lines in Aurora, for one example. Why couldn't it have been done here, too? And much, much sooner.)

Stepping down, now, from soapbox....

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Link to, and questions about, WBEZ report on judges getting vaccinated at Loretto Hospital

Updated March 19, 2021

A number of comments have popped up this afternoon concerning a WBEZ story, by Dan Mihalopoulos and Kristen Schorsch, posted yesterday on the radio station's website, "Cook County Judges — And Spouses — Offered Special Chance At COVID-19 Vaccine At Loretto Hospital."

I am grateful for the comments, because they allowed me to locate and post this link to the story.

One takeaway from the story, certainly, is that judges and lawyers generally are in Category 1C and, unless they qualify for a higher priority category because of age or underlying health conditions, judges and lawyers are not yet eligible for vaccination in the City of Chicago.

Inasmuch as the story does not identify the 13 judges and/or their spouses who were offered vaccinations from Loretto Hospital, and inasmuch as we do not know anything about the underlying health conditions of those judges, their spouses, or the two judges identified in the article, we do not know for certain that they were not yet eligible. That is the assumption under which the article proceeds, obviously. But the authors did not know, and could not know, about the actual eligibility of these individuals absent either a HIPAA waiver by the individuals involved, or a HIPAA violation by the hospital. There is a further assumption in the article that 14 judges and/or their spouses were in fact vaccinated on the evening of March 8. Perhaps they all were. Perhaps some were.

The only judge who was certainly vaccinated at Loretto, according to the article, was Judge James A. Shapiro. He was not part of the group invited by Judge Diann Marsalek, the acting presiding judge of the Cook County Circuit Court’s Traffic Division. I did see his Facebook posts, mentioned in the article, which, as I recall, expressed gratitude for his vaccination and encouraging everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Not suprisingly, those Facebook posts appear to be gone this afternoon.

But... isn't 'get yourself vaccinated as soon as you are able' the official, consistent, and unanimous message of all health officials?

My wife is a teacher in the Chicago Catholic Schools. She has been providing in-person instruction at her school since August. While teachers have been eligible for some time, slots for shots have been rare as hen's teeth. A nurse at a downtown hospital, who has children attending the school where my wife teaches, made arrangements with the school's principal: If shots were left over at the end of the day, the nurse would call the principal and the principal would reach out to teachers. That's how my wife got her shot: We got a call on a Wednesday night at 7:30; she could get the shot if we got there by 8:00. We made it with a minute to spare.

My wife was told that it was a fairly commonplace occurrence. Despite careful planning, there were always some people who didn't show up as scheduled. The bad weather last month exacerbated this situation. The bottom line with the vaccines is use it or lose it. It doesn't keep long once it's received, and once a vial is opened it must be used or discarded.

Now, admittedly, my wife was eligible when she was offered her vaccination. I offer no opinion about Judge Shapiro's eligibility -- but, according to the linked article, Judge Shapiro was initially told he was not eligible, but then he was called back. That seems significant to me.

The City of Chicago appears to be having some difficulty distributing COVID-19 vaccines. When the State of Illinois moved into Phase 1B+ on February 25, the City of Chicago lagged behind. Since all Chicago residents are necessarily State residents, too, it has been my understanding that Chicago residents, if eligible under State standards, are free to seek vaccines wherever they may be obtained.

The most disturbing allegation of the WBEZ story is the inclusion of spouses or "plus ones" in the vaccination offer extended to certain judges.

Not that it doesn't make sense, logically, scientifically, and from every other imaginable human standpoint, that persons desiring vaccine to protect themselves would also want vaccination for those closest to them. The bureaucratic mind, however, is hostile to every normal human impulse. And, whatever the rules may be at any given moment (and they are changing constantly), they are the product of bureaucratic minds, so anyone administering the rules would presumably know that "plus ones" would not be automatically included.

That does not mean, of course, that any spouses or significant others actually vaccinated at Loretto Hospital on March 8 did not otherwise qualify under state or local standards. It only means that they do not qualify merely because of their status as significant others. An open-ended offer by the hospital to vaccinate such persons, if made, would appear to be inappropriate.

The Biden administration wants every American to be eligible for vaccination by May 1. The State of Illinois announced today that all persons 16 and older will be eligible for vaccination on April 12. That skips the State from Phase 1B+ to Phase 2, bypassing Phase 1C entirely. The City of Chicago says it plans to enter Phase 1C on March 29 -- which would make judges and lawyers eligible along with other 'essential workers' and persons with particular underlying health conditions.

Though the City of Chicago hasn't officially moved beyond Phase 1B, all residents of Chicago's 9th Ward (and some residents of the 6th, 10th and 34th Wards) aged 40 or older were invited to reigster to receive the Pfizer vaccine earlier this week at the Pullman Community Center. That's not line jumping because the line was apparently redrawn by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

And the mass vaccination site at the United Center, operated by FEMA, was initially open to all Illinois residents 16 and older with an underlying medical condition, but the rules changed after the site went into operation and shots were limited to persons only from certain Chicago Zip Codes. Eleven Democratic Members of Congress signed a letter to FEMA protesting the change. The lines were drawn, and then redrawn.

That doesn't excuse any judges from line jumping, obviously. But, though WBEZ insinuates, it does not establish that any such behavior occurred. And the lines are perhaps a bit more fluid and confusing than some of the critics will acknowledge.

Perhaps the real story here is that the City of Chicago is not getting people vaccinated nearly as quickly as the rest of the State. Maybe there should be some inquiries into that.

On the one-year anniversary of our two-week shutdown

The retrospectives have been running for nearly a week now on the nightly newscasts, as we look back, and try to make sense of, the COVID-19 world in which we've been living for the past year.

The shutdown was looming as early as March 11 when the 2020 St. Patrick's Day Parades were all called off. Right before the primary? That was... unsettling. Then, on March 12, I ran a post just reciting the cancellations of various events I'd received in that day's email. They were falling like leaves from an oak tree on a windy day in October.

The Archdiocese of Chicago suspended the public celebration of Mass and closed its schools as of March 13. Governor Pritzker closed schools statewide shortly thereafter. I put up a post last March 14 addressing the widespread skepticism about the need for such draconian measures. By this time, the Circuit Court of Cook County had made its initial shutdown announcement, too. I noted at the time that there were only 46 reported COVID-19 cases in total in the entire state.

Those first few days were like a horror movie -- a good one, one where the monster is not revealed right away -- because the movement in the shadows, the inexplicable rustle of something in the darkness, is more terrifying than anything the audience can actually see. We heard ominous tales from Italy and California and Washington State -- but there really wasn't anything yet happening here (only 12 cases were reported on March 16; the very first COVID-19 death was not reported until March 17, 2020) -- and, yet, our lives had been abruptly stopped.

Stopped, yes, but not stopped entirely.

We had to do the primary first.

I was confused by the mixed messaging from our state and local leaders. At a time when we were told that every other normal activity had to be curtailed, the primary would have to go ahead. Why?

Looking back, my suggestion that the primary be reset for August would not have been helpful. The virus was much more than a rumor by August and it probably would have been more dangerous to stage an election then than in March. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

But, anyway, the reason why I submit that today, March 18, 2021, is the true anniversary of our continuing two-week shutdown is because, as far as I could tell, the real shutdown did not begin until the polls closed on the Feast of St. Patrick.

More than a half million Americans have died since. So many, many more contracted the disease. I know of one 2020 primary candidate who contracted the virus, as did that candidate's spouse. Another 2020 judicial candidate lost his father to the disease. I'm sure there have been others, but this is what I know for certain.

I also know that there are those---still---who contend that the number of fatalities has been inflated. There are widely shared anecdotes about persons in hospice on account of terminal cancer who also caught the virus -- and were therefore counted as a COVID-19 fatality. There are stories, perhaps apocryphal, perhaps not, of persons brought into the morgue with any number of bullet holes but whose blood, on autopsy, tested positive for the virus. Any such bullet-riddled corpse was allegedly counted as a COVID-19 casualty. Let us stipulate that some of the numbers can be whittled back in this fashion.

But if you take those persons out of the total, you must in fairness add in persons like the mother of a friend of ours. Past 90, she was moved into a different facility shortly before the lockdown began. Already confused, but in excellent physical health, she became lost entirely when COVID-19 protocols prevented her family from seeing her. She could talk to family members on the phone but she couldn't understand why they could not come to visit. Could not be with her. Despite her good physical health, she deteriorated rapidly and died lonely, confused, and hurt. She did not contract the virus, and is recorded in no one's totals, but COVID-19 killed her just the same. She was surely not the only one.

The 538,000 American COVID-19 deaths (to date) still pale in comparison to the 675,000 Americans who died from the Spanish Flu in 1918, especially when one takes into account that our national population is now more than three times greater than what it was then. If there were as many people living in America in 1918 as are living here now, all other things being equal, the death total from the Spanish Flu would have been around 2 million. And the Spanish Flu, like COVID-19, had a disproportionate impact on the elderly. But the Spanish Flu also targeted, and carried away, huge numbers of healthy people aged 20-40. Thankfully, this has not happened with COVID-19.

Objectively, then, by many measures, COVID-19 is 'not as bad' as the Spanish Flu was. Don't be suprised, though, if relatives of COVID-19 victims don't see it that way. And there is the very real phenomenon, too, of "Long COVID," persons who are afflicted with significant symptoms, including difficulty breathing, months and months after they have allegedly 'recovered.' (There is some exciting new evidence that vaccination is helping at least some Long COVID sufferers, but this is by no means certain.)

So COVID-19 has been bad. People will argue forever about whether things might have been better if we'd done this or that. Many of us acquired a new mantra in the past year: "Follow the Science."

Mr. Trump's baseless promises that the virus would just disappear, for example, were easy to mock in this way.

But the sad truth was "science" was all over the board on this one -- although it was understandable why. This was, after all, a "novel" virus -- it was new -- persons with experience dealing with flu outbreaks, or Legionnaires Disease, or Zika, or Ebola all had something to offer, but their experiences were not entirely transferable to the new crisis. It may be hard to remember now, but serious scientists, not just White House hacks or Red State governors, were genuinely divided on the efficacy of mask-wearing. The experts could not even agree that the disease could be acquired from airborne transmission. A lot of us had a lot of time to read a lot of serious, and seriously contradictory, scientific advice during the lockdown. Despite the contradictions and disagreements---and, I dare say, because of them, because that's how good science actually works---enormous progress has been made in treating the disease and, now, preventing its spread via vaccination.

Most of you reading this probably know at least some people who have at least begun their vaccinations.

So the end is in sight. Finally.

There are signs of life returning to our world.

It was eerily quiet by my Northwest Side home in those first several weeks of the shutdown. With almost all flights suspended at O'Hare, the skies were nearly as quiet as they'd been in those unnerving days following September 11, 2001. The Kennedy Expressway, just a couple of blocks from my home, usually provides a near-constant roar, punctuated, now and then, by CTA Blue Line trains. But with nearly everyone sheltering in place, that roar was not even a murmur.

The traffic noise is back now. It has been building, gradually, for a while. The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament gets underway today. Major League Baseball is back on track, too. Chicago will even allow some fans in the stands when the Cubs and the White Sox open play.

Our two weeks are almost up. And it only took a year. We could never have imagined that it would take so long. And that's probably just as well.

Chief Judge's Office looks back at the Year of Pandemic

The Office of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans released a press release yesterday looking back at the past year. FWIW reproduces it here in full:

The Cook County Circuit Court did not let a global pandemic shut down the fair and efficient administration of justice in the Chicago area. Instead, Cook County judges, working with public and private sector attorneys, clerks, and other court personnel, have employed technology, innovation, and a spirit of cooperation to meet the coronavirus challenge, resulting in 1,474,274 hours of Zoom court sessions with more than 1.8 million participants between March 17, 2020 and March 11, 2021 in all divisions.

The court also handled 894,991 motions and orders between March 17, 2020 and March 5, 2021, which includes adult criminal matters, plus most civil matters (not including the Child Protection, County and Traffic Divisions, or the Juvenile Justice Division).

A comparison of the total number of case filings and case dispositions in all parts of the court in the second and third quarters of 2021 shows how quickly the courts were able to recover after the initial shutdown in March 2020. In the second quarter of 2020, between April and June, 83,001 cases were filed or reinstated, while 44,648 cases were disposed, according to numbers from the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts. That made for a “clearance” rate of almost 54%, which measures how a court is keeping up with its case load.

The courts got busier in the summer of 2020, and judges and other court personnel were able to meet the demand. In the third quarter of 2020, 146,362 cases were filed or reinstated in all court divisions, and 126,862 cases were disposed, for a clearance rate of almost 87%. This compares favorably with the third quarter of 2019, which had a clearance rate of 73%. This shows how the courts got busier in the summer of 2020, and judges and other court personnel were able to meet the demand.

“The judges, lawyers, and court personnel have been tremendously creative, flexible, and good-humored in the transition to online proceedings,” said Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans. “I have been immensely proud at how willing and determined our judges and our staff have been to find solutions to continue to serve the people of Cook County while addressing the safety concerns posed by this virus.”

Both representatives of the private bar and public sector attorneys have complimented the Circuit Court for its response to the challenges raised by the pandemic.

“We had a chief judge who was amenable from the very beginning of the pandemic to the courts going virtual, and who was not resistant to it,” said Chicago Bar Association President Maryam Ahmad, a former judge who now heads the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Juvenile Justice Bureau.

“The past year has been jarring for people in the system as well as those working in the system, however, the flexibility and creativity of all the criminal justice partners during this time is extremely commendable,” said State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. “We continue to work collaboratively to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all of those in the pursuit of the administration of justice.”

“Chief Judge Evans was instrumental in providing a process for the safe release of my clients from the jail, before the first detainee had tested positive,” said Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli. “We were able to be proactive, working together with the judiciary, State’s Attorney, and the Sheriff, allowing us to safely reduce the jail population by several thousand and literally prevent many deaths.”

Judge Evans singled out for praise the efforts of Michael Carroll, director of Information Services for the Office of the Chief Judge, who led the effort to install Zoom in all courtrooms and instructed judges and other court personnel in its use, and Eileen Heisler, administrative assistant for the office, who visited all courthouses throughout the county to aid in the transition to virtual proceedings and the planned resumption of jury trials.

“Zoom Rooms” were established in all courthouses to accommodate litigants who lacked access to videoconferencing or teleconferencing technology. For those who did come to the courthouse, personal protective equipment was provided to judges and courtroom personnel, social distancing was maintained, and no one was allowed to enter court facilities without a temperature check and passing a health screening.

The use of videoconferencing and teleconferencing for court procedures has been so successful and popular that judges are discussing continuing its use in some situations after the threat of COVID-19 lifts.

For example, the Hon. Judge Diann Marsalek, Acting Presiding Judge of the Traffic Division, plans to continue to use teleconferencing for minor traffic cases to save litigants from having to take time off work, spend money on transportation, and come to court to resolve cases that involve only fines.

“People like to move on with their lives,” said Judge Marsalek said of the division’s efforts to continue to resolve cases despite the pandemic. “They don’t like to be stuck in a holding pattern.”

In the Child Protection Division, the use of teleconferencing increased the participation of children’s parents “dramatically,” said the Hon. Judge Robert Balanoff, Acting Presiding Judge. He said that beyond the pandemic, the division plans to work with attorneys and other stakeholders to come up with a hybrid system to allow teleconferencing for some matters.

Another example of the flexibility shown by the courts is the sharing of duties among judges within divisions. In the Law Division, for example, since jury trials could not be held, judges that typically handle trials have taken work from judges who handle motions, in order to reduce their heavy burden and prevent a backlog, according to the Hon. James P. Flannery, Jr., Presiding Judge. Judge Flannery said that motion judges had been working up to 11 hours a day, since they also were doing the work of clerks.

The most significant impact of the pandemic has been experienced in terms of civil and criminal jury and bench trials. The court has not been able to hold jury trials, and the number of bench trials has been limited. However, the court is planning to resume criminal jury trials next week, and is taking extensive precautions to protect the health of jurors, judges, lawyers, litigants, witnesses, and other court personnel.

The Circuit Court of Cook County also has continued other reforms started before the pandemic, including opening two new Restorative Justice Community Courts in Avondale and Englewood to provide alternatives to incarceration and second chances to young people who are arrested for non-violent offenses.

“The pandemic, while tragic and challenging on many levels, has also been a source of education for the courts,” said Judge Evans. “We have learned something from it about the flexibility and the resiliency of judges, attorneys and all court personnel that will benefit us in delivering justice going forward.”

Numbers in this press release come from both the Circuit Court and from the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts, available here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Dr. Klumpp reports on 2020 Cook County judicial candidate spending

by Albert J. Klumpp

With the 2020 election cycle behind us, and with nearly all of the required candidate filings now on record, it was time for my biennial slog through the hundreds of campaign finance reports filed by judicial candidates here in Cook County.

As mentioned before here on FWIW, part of my research on judicial elections includes compiling campaign spending totals for all of Cook County’s judicial candidates. Originally these totals were gathered strictly to measure the impact of campaign spending on election results, but with the data set now covering every candidate dating back to 1980, it has proven useful on its own for examining trends in campaign activity over time.

As usual, my procedure was to review every expense item on every report, and calculate primary- and general-election totals for each candidate covering all relevant campaign spending. In calculating the totals, items reported as in-kind contributions are included, and irrelevant items are excluded (such as loan repayments that are technically required to be reported as expenditures).

Most likely there are still a few general-election expenditures still to be disclosed, on reports filed in the coming months. But with that minor asterisk, the figures are otherwise complete. Here is a summary of what they reveal.

Record setting spending for Supreme Court vacancy

The seven candidates for the Freeman vacancy on the Illinois Supreme Court spent a total of more than $5.4 million on their campaigns. Shelly Harris was by far the biggest spender at $2.1 million—most of that on broadcast media advertising—establishing a new record for spending by a Supreme Court candidate in Cook County. (Harris also holds the record for Appellate Court campaign spending, at an inflation-adjusted $1.1 million for his successful 2014 campaign.) Every candidate, though, spent at least $290,000 and six of the seven spent $480,000 or more.

Figure 1 compares the primary-election spending in the Freeman contest to that of previous primaries for supreme court vacancies in Cook County. The older figures are inflation-adjusted into November 2020 dollars to provide a proper comparison.

Lower Courts reach new high in spending in 2020

The remaining 110 candidates for Appellate Court (6) and Circuit Court (104) vacancies spent a total of $9.2 million. Two years earlier a total of $8.7 million was spent (coincidentally also by 110 candidates), setting a new high for a single election cycle. That amount was eclipsed in 2020.

The ten biggest spenders in Circuit Court contests for countywide and subcircuit vacancies were:

The most significant figures among the Circuit Court candidates are the record-breaking totals in the two general election contests for the vacancies in the 12th and 13th subcircuits. The total general election spending by the Democrat and Republican candidate pairs was $674,000 in the 12th and $491,000 in the 13th, both far above the previous record of $271,000 in the 12th in 2004 (or $369,000 in 2020 dollars).

Frank DiFranco, a Republican running in a once-competitive subcircuit that has voted increasingly Democratic over the years, obliterated the previous total spending record for a Circuit Court candidate (James Shapiro, 2018, $491,000 / inflation-adjusted $507,000) but fell just short of victory in the general election. Susanne Groebner also surpassed the previous record, running successfully as a Democrat in the historically Republican but recently more competitive 13th Subcircuit.

Historical Trends

In the November/December 2019 issue of the CBA Record, I presented an analysis of my spending data, focusing on how spending behavior has changed over time. Figures 2 and 3 are taken from the Record article and show, respectively, median spending amounts by decade and numbers of candidates spending $100,000 or more by decade.

How do the 2020 numbers compare to these results? Median spending by countywide Circuit Court candidates was roughly $47,000, slightly below the previous decade’s median; the figure for subcircuit candidates was roughly $49,000, slightly above. There were only six appellate court candidates, too few for useful insight.

Individual election cycles can be variable enough to make year-to-year comparisons difficult; this in fact was the reason for the charts displaying decade figures instead of single-year figures. So the median amounts are not necessarily revealing. But consider the numbers of $100,000 spenders: In the entire decade of the 2010s there were 101 candidates who spent $100,000 or more on their campaigns. In 2020 alone there were 30 such candidates.

Figures 2 and 3 show that spending is has become a bigger and bigger part of judicial candidacies in recent years. And while research has found that spending has only the smallest, barely detectable impact on election results in countywide judicial contests, this has not discouraged countywide circuit and appellate candidates from spending as aggressively as subcircuit candidates (who, research has shown, receive a far greater electoral return per dollar).

The 2020 figures, while not conclusive on their own, show no sign that the increasingly aggressive spending of Cook County judicial candidates has yet leveled off.


Albert J. Klumpp has been a generous and frequent contributor to FWIW over the years. A research analyst with a public policy PhD, Klumpp is the author of several scholarly works analyzing judicial elections including, most recently, "Evaluating Judicial Merit Selection," in the November 2020 issue of Arizona Attorney (the link will take you the magazine website; you'll have to click around a bit to access the article). The CBA Record article referred to in the article above is "Campaign Spending in Cook County Judicial Elections."

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Gonzales case may answer the question of shills in judicial races

Some readers get aggravated with me from time to time, and never more so when the subject is "shills."

I accept the possibility that, perhaps, now and then, this candidate or that one has entered the lists at the behest of another candidate -- statistics show that, for example, in general, a male candidate will be disadvantaged in a one-on-one race with a female. But... maybe... if the male candidate can recruit one or two other women to enter the race -- just enter the race, without campaigning -- sufficient votes may be divided between or among the female candidates to allow the male candidate to slip through.

That's the theory, at least. In practice, it doesn't work out so well.

In a comment submitted to FWIW on a post last year, Dr. Albert J. Klumpp, a research analyst with a public policy PhD, and the author of several scholarly works analyzing judicial elections, stated that his research disclosed 33 instances of probable shill candidacies in countywide circuit court contests between 1994 and 2004. He found that "there were instances where a ringer meant the difference between victory and defeat for a slated candidate. But the success rate was less than 25 percent. So it’s no surprise that there were none after 2004. Benefits didn't justify costs."

I'm not positive that there haven't been any shill candidacies in countywide judicial races since 2004 -- but I am dead certain sure that there haven't been nearly as many as charged.

In the last election cycle, Injustice Watch ran a story (published also in the Chicago Sun-Times) calling out a number of alleged "shills" by name. I ran a lengthy response here. (See also, Wait... I thought shills weren't supposed to have lawn signs... and Guest Post: Bonnie McMgrath responds to Injustice Watch story on shills.)

The bottom line is that, as employed in recent years, the accusation of being a "shill" is just another campaign slur, like "extremist" or "Trumpite" or "lizard person."

OK, I haven't actually seen a mailer accusing a Cook County judicial candidate of being a lizard person. Yet. But I wouldn't be at all surprised.

And "shill" is a particularly good slur to bandy about because it is intended to injure at least two people: The candidate who is allegedly the shill and the candidate who recruited the shill. And the implication is that both the recruiter and the recruited have done something illegal, immoral, or fattening.

Gonzales v. Madigan, 2021 U.S. App. LEXIS 6635 (No. 20-1874, 3/8/21), does not resolve the morality question. But Judge Easterbrook's brief, tart opinion leaves little doubt that the use of shills is not illegal.

Jason Gonzales challenged Michael J. Madigan in the 2016 Democratic Primary for state representative. Also on the ballot that March were Grasiela Rodriguez and Joe Barboza. Quoting now from the Gonzales opinion (slip op. at p. 2),

Gonzales contends in this suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 that Rodriguez and Barboza were stooges put on the ballot by Madigan’s allies to divide the Hispanic vote and ensure Madigan’s victory. The effort was hardly necessary, since if every non-Madigan vote had gone to Gonzales he still would have lost in a landslide. Nonetheless, Gonzales contends, the appearance of two candidates who served only as distractors violated the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment and entitles him to damages (perhaps represented by the expenses of his failed run).

Dismissal of the suit was upheld because, even if the other two Hispanic candidates were recruited by Madigan (who denied any such thing), the alleged "sponsorship" was no secret. Quoting again from the opinion (slip op. at p. 3),

Gonzales smelled a rat from the start and made that known to the electorate, which swept Madigan back into office anyway. An editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times agreed with Gonzales about the provenance of the Rodriguez and Barboza candidacies, so the voters did not have to take his word for it.

Gonzales relied on Smith v. Cherry, 489 F.2d 1098 (7th Cir. 1973), which, according to the new Seventh Circuit opinion (slip op. pp. 2-3), "held that a stalking-horse candidacy, in which the nominal contestant secretly planned to withdraw after winning the primary and permit a party commitee to name the candidate for the general election, could in principle violate the Equal Protection Clause." The Gonzales court describes Smith as "a bolt from the blue. It does not have any predecessors that we could find. Nor has it had any successors" (slip op. at p. 5).

I'd have thought, reading Smith, that its predecessor was Shakman v. Democratic Organization of Cook County, 435 F.2d 267 (7th Cir. 1970), which the Smith court quoted for the principle, "The interests of candidates in official treatment free from intentional or purposeful discrimination are entitled to constitutional protection" (489 F.2d 1098, at 1103, quoting from 435 F.2d at 270). Shakman isn't just a predecessor of Smith: Though now over 50 years old, the case is still pending (see, Shakman v. Clerk of Cook County, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 67626 (opinion by Magistrate Judge Schenkier)).

Michael Shakman was a young lawyer when he sought election to Con-Con -- the same Constitutional Convention at which a young Michael J. Madigan got his start in electoral politics.

Shakman ran from a district that included Hyde Park, where he had attended law school.

In 1969 there were few places within the corporate limits of the City of Chicago where the legendary Machine of Mayor (and, more imporant, Cook County Democratic Party Chairman) Richard J. Daley did not hold sway. But Hyde Park was one of these. Even Mr. Shakman admitted, in this 2008 interview for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, that the Machine could not "reliably dominate" the district from which he ran. In fact, as the interview reveals, Shakman got through the initial round of voting to be elected as a delegate. There were four finalists, independents Shakman and civil rights activist Al Raby, and the "organization" candidates, Attie Belle McGee and Odas Nicholson (later a Circuit Court judge). Raby and Nicolson won. Shakman finished third.

Shakman's claim, that he was constitutionally disadvantaged by the patronage armies of the Daley Machine in Hyde Park, must have seemed as implausible to the District Judge initially assigned to that case, Arbraham Lincoln Marvoitz, as Jason Gonzales' claim, that Michael J. Madigan needed to recruit ringers in order to win, seemed to Judge Easterbrook. But a panel of Easterbrook's predecessors reversed Marovitz.

Anyway, it would appear that Cook County judicial candidates are free to recruit shills if they think it will help their prospects. Which it probably won't.

Besides, if "just run" is deemed a plausible and even potentially successful campaign strategy, how the heck would you be able to tell a shill from anyone else?

And Gonzales won't stop people from accusing some candidates of being shills. But I don't have to repeat baseless accusations here.

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Or you could just run? The pros and cons, especially the cons, of slating

Democratic Party judicial slating is a pretty commercial transaction, especially when you consider what is being bought and what is being sold.

Oh, I know, even the newest newbies have heard all about that, right? For a contribution---an assessment---of somewhere around $40,000 the candidate gets his or her name on two mailers, along with a postage-stamped sized photo, or the opportunity to be posed in a very exclusive group shot. Seems like an awful lot for a very little, doesn't it? But, wait! There's more... or, perhaps, less: For that same $40,000 the candidate gets the right to be invited to every politician's fundraiser, and the obligation to kick in a generous donation to each one. Sounds super, doesn't it?

But you know what, kids? It was ever thus, even in the far off days of Richard J. Daley:

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).

Here's the thing though: It isn't just about the money. The Democratic Party of Cook County would have no trouble recruiting judicial candidates willing to pay a great deal more than $40,000. If the Party opened it up to auction, there would be candidates lined up down LaSalle Street outside the Party's offices. If they were asked to, the wannabes would climb the stairs to the Party's offices on their knees, like pilgrims at the end of a Spanish mountain trail, brandishing blank checks instead of rosaries.

At least this would happen once.

Whether it would happen again would depend on whether the high bidders won.

Slating by the Democratic Party of Cook County is valuable because so many of the slated candidates win. Not all do, of course, but enough do. So the Party slating process is not just about money, or ideology, or qualifications, or ethnic balance, or special interests. All of these factor in, certainly, but the bottom line is winning.

The Democratic Party's challenge grows greater with each election cycle. There is no one Boss in Cook County and there hasn't been one for decades. Certain individuals have, in recent cycles, exercised outsize influence on the slating process. President Preckwinkle arguably still does. Senate President Harmon's influence has presumably grown substantially in recent years. But other stars have faded. Mr. Burke is no longer on the Central Committee. While he still is 13th Ward Committeeman, Mr. Madigan's influence has waned. There is no Machine as such; there is at most a coalition of competing interests. The 80 ward and township committeepersons hail from different communities and backgrounds, with different priorities. In ordinary circumstances, though some of the 80 are ideological soulmates, the group as a whole would have difficulty agreeing on the time of day or day of the week. And yet, this diverse group will, some time this summer, on paper at least, unanimously endorse a slate of judicial candidates and a number of alternates.

It never exactly works out that way. Check the archives here and you will find: Some judicial candidates have been SLATED and some were merely slated. Those of us on the outside may not have found out which was which until Election Day or shortly before as palm cards revealed who had broken ranks. But that is the challenge for the slatemakers: To keep enough of the 80 committeepeople together behind a slate, and to keep enough of those slated in the Winner's Circle, so that the Party can say they, collectively, carried the day... and thereby ensure that there will be a new crop of willing wannabes ready to pay in the next election cycle.

But here's the secret: Within all the limitations under which it must function, the Democratic Party is trying to pick winners, just as you would do scanning the card on an afternoon at Arlington. The analogy is imperfect, as all analogies are. For one thing, the Party bets on the slated candidate with the candidate's own money. And the Party does more for the candidate than an ordinary $2 bettor does for a winning horse -- although still less than the jockey.

Party slating does not automatically make you a winner, but it does mean the Party thinks you have the makings of a winner. And it is willing to back you... with your own money.

In the course of operating this site, I have observed slated candidates who were deathly afraid to appear at an event at which non-slated candidates were featured. But go back and read Rakove again: Even in the far off days of Richard Daley the First, the slated candidate was expected to reach out beyond the Party's staged events to "reach those segments of the electorate to whom he supposedly has the greatest appeal on behalf of the ticket." I don't know for certain, but I am reasonably confident there would be no adverse consequence for the candidate asked to share a stage with non-slated judicial candidates, especially where the slated candidate said sufficiently nice things about those on stage but nevertheless asked those within hearing to support the entire ticket. Slated judicial candidates who would not branch out beyond Party-sponsored events have not always fared well.

I do not mean to minimize the import or effectiveness of Party slating in Cook County. If the opportunity presents itself, you should grab hold with both hands. Even if turns out that you were only slated, you will have the opportunity to make a name for yourself, and to be invited to every event, and overcome any defections among the ranks.

So how does one get slated? Well, if I knew that, I'd have done it myself, and long ago.

But, at this stage in the election cycle, I have observed that there are persons who come out of the woodwork holding themselves out as persons who can 'get' a person slated. For a fee, of course. And some of these people may actually have some influence. But these persons offering assistance are looking for winners, too. They want to be able to use their early involvement in your successful campaign as an inducement to recruit other wannabes in election cycles yet to come.

These persons may be able to put you in front of a number of committeemen; they may even come with you for the meetings. And, of course, you will be impressed at the warmth with which your new friend is received by the committeepersons in question. But this does not prove influence, however, only familiarity. And maybe you could have secured some or all of these meetings on your own.

At this point in the process, see who you can. Accept guidance from anyone you choose, or go it alone. You may even leave some of these meetings thinking that you have received some promise, or at least some hope, of support.

Just don't bet on it. Committeepersons are politicians. And politicians are persons who can tell you to go to Hell and make you look forward to the trip.

You, Mr. or Ms. Wannabe Candidate, need not debase yourself as a mere supplicant, hoping that the Party will magically turn you from an ugly ducking into a beautiful swan. Make no promises. Swear no oaths. You are shopping, not begging, and the Party is shopping, too.

Friday, March 05, 2021

COVID-19 update -- and a non-political question about mask mandates

As we approach the first anniversary of our two-week shutdown, let us take stock of where we are:

  • The Cook County Chief Judge's Office announced on Tuesday of this week that two more employees had tested positive for COVID-19, one who works for the Adult Probation Office in Bridgeview, the other in the Social Service Department at the George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse. This brings to 280 the current total of employees of the Chief Judge's Office who have tested positive for COVID-19. There have also been 21 judges (out of a total of about 400) who have testested positive;

  • The Chief Judge's Office announced on February 24 that criminal jury trials will resume this month, with the first of these planned for 26th Street on March 22 and in Bridgeview on March 29;

  • The number of COVID-19 cases is unquestionably going down in Illinois, at least at the moment. Last October 25, there were 4,062 new cases. The day before, a Saturday, there had been 6,161. I looked at the numbers again in November -- and on November 10 there were 12,623 cases reported. But, then, the State had started counting, and reporting, cases differently: In early November the State began reporting actual and probable cases. This is still how things are being done -- but yesterday, according to IDPH, there were 1,740 new and probable COVID-19 cases. That's a lot more than the 12 -- not a typo -- actually just a dozen -- cases that were reported on March 16, 2020, just before the world ended -- but, clearly, a considerable improvement over last fall;

  • The one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is now being administered in the Chicago area. That brings to three the total number of vaccines that none of us can get yet. And, actually, that is already an exaggeration: My wife and my youngest son, both teachers, have received their first doses of vaccine. While most people I talk to have not yet received a vaccine, almost everyone actually knows someone who has. It is coming. Eventually.

And with the decline in cases, and the increase in vaccine availability, government officials are starting to ease restrictions of businesses, including restaurants and bars, here and across the State. There will be an NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament this year, with some fans permitted, although the tournament will be played in a "bubble" in Indianapolis instead of at sites around the country. Fans are sitting, socially distant, in the stands at Spring Training games in Arizona. Many of these moves---most of them, I believe---have been met with relief and even cautious applause.

Governors in Texas and Mississippi have gone so far as to lift mask mandates in their states, however, and the media, and my Facebook and Twitter feeds, are all in high dudgeon. President Biden has chastisted these as "Neanderthal" moves.

Do not worry: This in not going to be a Political Post. Some readers grouse when I stray too far from #CookCountyJudicial posts, admonishing me to stay in my lane. I don't see how I'm ever going to get a cushy gig on a Sunday morning news panel if I don't branch out into national topics -- I can be just as loud and just as wrong as any of them if only given the chance. That, and a good toupee.

But put that aside for the moment. At this point in the electoral cycle, we are mostly lawyers and judges here. Words are our stock and trade. Words like "mandate."

When we use the word "mandate" or "mandatory" we mean that something must happen or someone must do something. When a mandatory disclosure date is set, and passes, and nothing happens, we lawyers can expect more than just a rueful sigh from the judge presiding. A mandatory deadline can be extended, of course (and thank God for that, too, or I'd have been disbarred a hundred times over), but, at some point, a line is drawn in the sand, and consequences will obtain if we fail to comply with that last and final, double-secret probation deadline.

I assume that all of you reading here are compliant with our local mask mandates. I have heard masks analogized to pants -- neither is required for Zoom meetings, but both are essential when going to the store.

But I further assume that most of you also know people, or at least see people, who do not wear masks. I certainly have: People who put on a mask to get past the 'mask required for entry' sign -- and take it off again as soon as they are safely inside the store. Perhaps they think themselves clever. Perhaps you have harrumphed at some of these people and gotten an earful of abuse for your pains.

Are these scofflaws arrested? Are our criminal dockets crowded with maskless offenders? Are our prisons bulging with chronic mask refusers? Are our municipal coffers overflowing with fines remitted by maskless miscreants? Not that I've heard. Or read. Have any of you heard or seen differently?

Now let me turn the question around, just a little. Suppose our own Governor Pritzker decides to lift the mask mandate here in Illinois. Not because COVID-19 is over, but solely because it becomes, for some reason, politically expedient. This is obviously not going to happen here anytime soon, I know, but we are lawyers. We are used to answering hypothetical questions in argument.

Upon the hypothetical lifting of our own mask mandate, keeping in mind that you still have not been vaccinated, and neither have most members of your family, and that COVID-19 is still coursing through the community, would you immediately cast aside your mask and gambol madly down Madison Street or Michigan Avenue, shaking hands with everyone you meet (no more elbow bumps for you)?

Of course not.

At least, I hope not.

You wear your mask in public, not because some politician says so, but because, from what you've read, and heard, and seen, and experienced, you are persuaded that mask-wearing protects you and yours and those around you. So do I. (I bet a lot of folks in Texas and Mississippi feel that way, too, whatever their governors may say, but I promised not to go there, and I won't.)

So... despite what we call it, the mask "mandate," here or anywhere in this country, is more of a strong suggestion than a mandate. We don't punish people who disobey it.

And this, for me, is a problem. I don't mean that I want to punish the scoffers. (Well, maybe just a little....) My concern is that calling a suggestion, or request, a mandate undermines the rule of law.

Our system depends on people respecting and obeying the law. When specific laws (or mandates) are seen to be ignored, or not enforced, people may be encouraged to ignore other laws, too. Or think they may choose which laws to obey and which laws not to. This is not something new in America. See, Prohibition. See also, the "War on Drugs." I could do a pretty lengthy string cite here, and I'll bet you could, too.

There will be a lot to rebuild when this two-week shutdown eventually ends. The economy, including our own personal economies, for one. But can we also give some thought to how we will repair the damage caused to the rule of law by well-intentioned "mandates"?

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Or you could just run? More suggestions... for what they're worth

This has turned into a series. So be it.

A commenter yesterday cautioned me against giving away "tradecraft" for free. Tradecraft seems a rather exalted term for the reminiscences and suggestions I'm sharing here.

But, if you find these posts, or any posts on this site, useful or entertaining, there is a Paypal button in the blog Sidebar that you can use at your convenience. If you're reading this on your phone you will have to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and push the "View Web Version" button in order to get to the Sidebar. Thank you.


So you want to be a judge, eh? Before you ‘just run,’ browse through the archives here (links to all posts can be found in the blog Sidebar). You will find examples of:

  • People with ‘good’ ballot names who did not win;
  • People with glowing, unanimously positive bar ratings who did not win;
  • People who spent a lot of money and did not win;
  • People who received ‘big’ endorsements (e.g., the Tribune, or the Chicago Federation of Labor) and did not win;
  • People who received Supreme Court appointments to the bench and did not win;
  • People who were slated by the Democratic Party and did not win.

Indeed, you will find examples of some people who fit within two or more of the above categories and did not win.

So, does it follow that you should not worry about any of these supposed advantages and ‘just run’?

No. Hell, no.

This is a free country, of course, and you can just toss your hat in the ring and see what happens. You might win.

You might win the Powerball jackpot with a single $2 ticket, too. (This has not worked for me so far, however.)

And the archives will reveal that there are also instances where someone has won without spending a lot of money, without first getting appointed, without bothering with bar evaluations, and without apparent support from any political party.

But you, judicial wannabes, are lawyers and, hopefully, good ones. You know the value of preparation. While there have been stories of lawyers picking up a file for the first time in the morning and winning the trial in the afternoon, these tales often crumble, at least a bit, on close examination. I remember hearing a story once, 40 years ago perhaps, about a young lawyer who was handed a garden-variety PI file for the first time on Monday morning and told he was on trial. By Friday, a runaway jury had hit his client with a million dollar verdict -- but it supposedly made his reputation: Insurance companies figured he must have been a really hotshot trial lawyer because he was entrusted with such a “big case” so early in his career. They started sending him files directly, allowing him to set up his own firm.

Readers with agricultural backgrounds may have heard analogous tales of farmers falling into pig slop who got up smelling of roses. Who knows? Maybe those stories are true, too.

One thing you should notice when you peruse the archives here is that, many times, the persons winning election were not making their first race. Sometimes their bids were in consecutive election cycles; sometimes several years passed between their races. Sometimes people who lost a number of election bids reached the bench through the associate judge process. There’s no one formula; if there was, I’d have used it.

The biggest single mistake I made was in not conditioning those closest to me, my family, my friends, my business associates, to the idea that getting on the bench is, for the unconnected at least, a long-term process. I used up Lake Mead-sized reservoirs of good will and commitment on my maiden voyage in 1994 when I should have prepared all around me for the idea that my ignominious and, in hindsight, inevitable defeat was in fact a victory: Though I was a nobody that nobody had sent, I qualified for the ballot (despite all the obstacles that exist to prevent that), got decent bar ratings, and thereafter got all the way to the finish line without embarrassing myself or those I hold dear.

But in 1994, not knowing any better, I remember how embarrassed I felt, how devastated and embarrassed, when a friend called with results from the 47th Ward (on the opposite end of the 10th Subcircuit from where I live). In some precincts I had one vote, or two. In many, I had none at all. Shattering as this was for me, it was so much harder on my friends and especially on my wife, all of whom had worked so hard. I did not understand, then, what we’d accomplished together, and I could not find words of comfort or cheer.

In 1996, as you saw yesterday, I ran on personal momentum and desperation. I did not ‘build’ in any sense on what we’d done together in 1994. And I ran alone.

So, take heed wannabe judges: Run in 2022, but with 2024... or 2026... or 2028 in mind. Tell those around you that you are learning, together, how to run in 2022. In 2024, you’ll build on the experience you gain this cycle -- and, if lightning does strike this time, and you win, your loved ones will forgive you for being a poor prophet. But it does not necessarily work the other way around.

Having decided to run, and having accepted the reality that it may be a long haul, what should you do next?

If you’ve visited this site at all, you presumably know that you need to find, and lock up, the services of a qualified elections attorney at the earliest possible date. I don’t care if you think you’re the best lawyer since Darrow -- I don’t care if you are the best lawyer since Darrow -- you need an election law specialist to advise you. The Illinois Election Code is chock full of traps for the unwary and unspecialized. I am not an election lawyer. But find one. Soon. Even if you spend money on nothing else, incur this one expense.

You should also review, and purge, your social media sites.

I do not mean shut them down. If such a drastic step is really warranted, perhaps you should reconsider your interest in, and fitness for, judicial service.

I always tell people that you should put nothing on the Internet that would give you pause if it were read back from the pulpit by your pastor. Hopefully, you have engaged with the Internet on similar terms already. But... just possibly... on one or two occasions... perhaps... you got into flame wars with people you didn’t like in high school and really don’t like now. Not that your pastor would object to your opinions -- let us stipulate that all your opinions are sound -- but consider whether the language you used was ‘judicial.’ If not, purge those posts now, before announcing your ambitions, lest someone doing ‘research’ on you find and preserve them first.

Consider also whether you might scrub some of your opinions from your sites. No matter what opinions you hold, however mainstream, there may be someone who disagrees. You may be thrilled, as I am, by the revival of space exploration. I could watch videos of SpaceX landing its first stage boosters all day long. I’m following the Perseverance Rover Twitter account. But some bar evaluator may strongly believe that we should stay out of space until all our problems here on Earth are solved. I realize that none of this will come up in Traffic Court. But will the evaluator find fault with your enthusiasm and doom your rating with that group accordingly? Better to be bland. Remember, you are striving to become a professional neutral.

Pictures of your pets are probably fine. Pictures of your adorable children, too. The occasional sunset. But, will those pictures of you and your buds bending your elbows in a tavern, or smoking cigars at a tailgate party, be subject to misinterpretation?

I am a very mediocre photographer. But, for posts here I have, from time to time, pulled out my camera phone to take a picture or two of some of the attendees at an event. You should see how quickly people ditch their refreshments! They are not being prudes; they are merely being prudent. Profit by their example.

Use your social media to boost your campaign – even before anyone knows you’re running. When you attend an event, pose for pictures with any prominent person who will hold still long enough. Pose with the sponsor. Pose with someone (no selfies). Post these pictures. Name the people in your pictures; they may “like” your posts and may “share” or “retweet” or whatever. There may be quite a few votes and maybe even campaign donors lurking among your Facebook “friends” and LinkedIn contacts. Control your own image and start building your brand.

There’s more to talk about, but we’ll take that up in a future post. Meanwhile... start browsing... and purging.

Monday, March 01, 2021

Or you could just run? Some suggestions if you're thinking about it -- part 1

In my last post I teased a darkly humorous postscript to my judicial campaign adventures. I redeem that promise herewith:

This is a funnier story when I suggest or infer that I somehow possess a Kiss of Death or Cloud of Doom or otherwise cursed the victors. But I do not actually dabble in the Dark Arts. It is simply a matter of historical fact that the persons who won the races that I entered in 1994 and 1996 ultimately lost... big time.

The winner of my 1996 primary race never even made it to the November ballot. Appointed by the Supreme Court, slated by the Democratic Party, and endorsed by the Chicago Tribune, the successful primary candidate went on a post-primary vacation to Belize... where he was busted by local authorities for having marijuana in his fanny pack. When word got out about his guilty plea, the judge in question (who had been assigned, naturally, to Narcotics Court) withdrew from the ballot...

... Leaving the field clear for a Republican, of all things, to win the race, unopposed. (There were actually three countywide Republican candidates contesting the 13 vacancies in 1996, which tells you how long ago this was.) I belive this candidate holds the distinction of being the last Republican Cook County judicial candidate elected countywide.

As a Republican, this judge was never my opponent, so even if you care to ascribe to me some Dark Powers, despite my careful denial above, the effect of my 'curse' on him should have been more or less tangential, not direct. And, indeed, this person even got retained once, in 2002, although he was already facing charges brought by the Judicial Inquiry Board. In 2003, this judge got a 30-day suspension from the Illinois Courts Commission. By the time the 2006 election rolled around, he was gone.

The candidate who won my 1994 race was first appointed to the bench in 1991. After his initial appointment expired in 1992, he stayed in office pursuant to three recall orders before handily winning the first primary election in which I 'just ran'.

The problem was that this judge was not actually living in the 10th Subcircuit when he ran for office; he falsely claied his parents' address as his own. The Judicial Inquiry Board ultimately lodged a complaint against him, in 2002, raising this charge (and others) and the Illinois Courts Commission removed him from office in 2004.

There are any number of lessons you could draw from these examples. Never wear a fanny pack, for one. And the others?

I hope you don't need me to point out that politics in this county isn't always played according to Hoyle. Just last week, WGN-TV carried news of a new report from the University of Illinois at Chicago that names Chicago as the most corrupt city in the nation. Again. You may blush and stammer about it, but a good many of your friends and neighbors take a sort of perverse pride in this dubious civic achievement: We're Number One!

The corrosive effect of this systemic corruption can not be understated.

But let’s be clear: The problem is not that everyone is hinky and nothing is on the level. Most people -- the vast majority of people -- are honest, and at least as trustworthy as their interests allow, and even those who are inclined to bend, or ignore, the rules don’t always do so. As is true of every walk of life, there are crooks and thieves in politics. There are others who are in it solely for their own selfish purposes. But there are also many truly dedicated public servants. The problem is figuring out who is who.

In our local culture, where corruption is tolerated, even sort of celebrated, one can never truly be certain that anything is truly on the up-and-up. That's the corrosive effect of long-term corruption. Doubts grow about people, about institutions, about everything. If something happened once, and was exposed, how many times has it happened without detection?

Take the case of George J.W. Smith. Appointed to an 11th Subcircuit vacancy in 1995 by the Supreme Court on the recommendation of the late Justice Charles Freeman, he lost his 1996 primary race –- but was returned to the bench via another appointment, this one from the late Justice Mary Ann McMorrow. In the 1998 primary, in a crowded field, Smith squeaked through, ultimately winning election to a different 11th Subcircuit vacancy.

There might have been a happy ending to this tale but for the fact that Judge Smith decided to divorce his wife. If we were to do a post on what not to do if one successfully reaches the bench, this would be high on the list -- especially where, as in the case of Judge Smith, he allegedly asked his wife to contribute $10,000 of what supposedly amounted to a $30,000 bribe to secure the initial 1995 appointment.

But... a bribe to who?

At the time, suspicion centered on former Ald. Edward Vrdolyak. It was well-known, and even well-documented, that Justice Freeman was inclined to accept Vrdolyak’s recommendations when judicial vacancies needed to be filled.

“If you want to be a Cook County judge, see Edward Vrdolyak. That’s the advice Supreme Court Justice Charles Freeman has given more than one judicial hopeful.” That’s how Abdon Pallasch and Chuck Neubauer began an article in the October 24, 2000 Chicago Sun-Times. In that same article, Pallasch and Neubauer quote Freeman’s lavish praise of Vrdolyak:

“He has the ability to reach out to the Democratic Party, to some of the committeemen who I’ve never had a rapport with -- he likes to be a player,” Freeman said. “Have I talked with him about doing that kind of thing for other candidates? Yes I have.

“He’s had value to me, to people that I’ve wanted to prepare. He would bring together black committeemen to support candidates -- get ‘em in a room and have a breakfast. Who can do that? I would love to see (Cook County Board President John) Stroger do that. But that’s not what John Stroger would do.”

Smith ultimately pled guilty to federal ‘currency violations’ – withdrawing his $20,000 share of the alleged bribe from his county pension in three increments of less than $10,000 each, that being the “threshold that would have required the bank to notify federal authorities,” according to a March 6, 2002 Tribune article by Matt O’Connor.

That same article reported that Smith admitted filing a false tax return for 1995 (not reporting the $20,000 withdrawal). He also admitted other wrongdoing relating to the handling of his late brother’s estate, but he apparently never identified the person who got the money to allegedly secure the judicial appointment. O’Connor’s article concluded:

Authorities hinted that a broader investigation into the buying of Circuit Court judgeships continues.

“There are other allegations that remain under investigation,” said Blake Hamilton, the FBI’s assistant special agent in charge in Chicago. “And we will continue to pursue all aspects of those allegations to their logical conclusion.”

Justice Freeman was never accused of any wrongdoing in connection with Smith’s appointment. According to Abdon M. Pallasch’s May 27, 2002 Sun-Times article, “the realization that she had [reappointed] Smith based on referrals and not knowing enough about his background prompted” Justice McMorrow to name a committee to assist her in vetting potential judicial appointments.

Every Illinois Supreme Court justice has such a committee these days.

But the poison continues to circulate in the system. There are whispers about how this judge, or that one, first got to the bench. There are whispers about who paid what to who, although, of course, never for the record. And before anyone gets any ideas, these sorts of rumors won’t appear in the comments here either. If someone chooses to publish a tell-all memoir, however, I’ll be happy to review it. I won’t hold my breath waiting.

The point is that, in seeking to join the Cook County judiciary, though you are personally purer than Caesar’s wife (as the old expression has it), you may be potentially tainted by your association with Cook County politics. If you are successful, whether by appointment, or election, or through the associate judge process, there may be rumors about you.

Ordinarily, of course, it is not considered a good thing to be friendless and alone. But, when it comes to Cook County politics, being friendless and alone pretty much guarantees that you will never be hauled before a grand jury investigating political corruption.

Contrary to some of the comments to Friday’s post, I am not saying don’t run for judge.... If you’re reading this far, you probably have run, or are thinking about it, or know someone who is. I’m not trying to dissuade you, and I wouldn't succeed if I tried. But I have been closely observing the process for over a decade now and, while I can’t offer any magic formulas for success, I have seen some patterns and practices that you may find helpful as you pursue a career change, and I will start talking about that in my next post on this subject.