To retain, or not to retain?
That is the question that will face Cook County voters 58 times on Tuesday, as they’ll be asked whether scores of county judges should be able to keep their gavels.
Yes, that’s a lot of names to keep in mind, on top of all the other pols you’ll have kicking around in your head. But fret not: a handful of Chicago-area legal groups have compiled information on Cook County judges up for retention.
The information in this blog post comes mostly from a nifty website called voteforjudges.org that aggregates ratings and reviews on judges from a handful of legal groups – a one-stop-shop for the dedicated Cook County citizen.
I’ll summarize their findings in a moment, but first, a brief civics lesson:
A goodly number of the judges you’ll see on your ballot are running for election in Cook County (though, this being a heartily Democratic county, most Dems are running unopposed). These elections, like any other, require a simple majority to win.
But the 58 Cook County judges up for retention have to play by slightly different rules.
By default, believe it or not, these folks are about to lose their jobs. At the end of their terms, they must get 60 percent of the vote in order to be retained.
Okay. So how do you learn more about all of these people?
There are a handful of groups that conduct interviews with judges, look through their disciplinary and complaint records, talk to lawyers who go before them, then make recommendations on who should stay and who should go.
Most of the reasons for not retaining aren’t all that sexy, but there are exceptions. Take Cook County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Brim, who was reportedly declared “legally insane” and put on leave after a scuffle with a sheriff in the courthouse. Then there’s Judge Gloria Chevere, also in the Cook County Circuit Court, who was caught sunbathing in the middle of a workday by a Chicago TV news crew, after they’d learned she had a habit of leaving work early.
Note that the groups below say they don’t judge the judges based on politics, but on how well they do their jobs (if they’re on time for work, if they’ve read their briefs, if they have sufficient experience, etc.)
You should also note, though, that some judges were listed as “not recommended” simply because they didn’t participate in the review process. These groups didn't find problems with most judges. But here’s a thumbnail of the ones they did:
The Chicago Bar Association says these judges are not recommended for retention:
Rodney Hughes Brooks
James D. Egan
Pamela E. Hill-Veal
Lisa Ruble Murphy
Meanwhile, the Chicago Council on Lawyers found these judges “not qualified” or, if they didn’t participate in the survey, “not recommended:”
Kathy M. Flanagan
James D. Egan
Joyce Marie Murphy Gorman
Pamela E. Hill-Veal
The Alliance of Bar Associations aggregates recommendations from a variety of lawyers groups around Chicago to compile its pocket-ready report. This includes input from groups ranging from the Black Women’s Lawyers Association of Greater Chicago to the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago. Different groups have some different recommendations for each judge, so I don’t have a copy-and-paste-able list. But many of their “not recommendeds” line up with the above.
Finally, you can check out the Chicago Tribune’s ed page endorsements to learn more about county judges. (The Sun-Times stopped doing political endorsements earlier this year).
I did make an effort to reach out to all judges who are not recommended for one reason or another. Judge Brim has been on leave from her duties since March. Judges Rodney Hughes Brooks and Lisa Ruble Murphy both declined to comment for this story. Judge James D. Egan is retiring. The rest didn't immediately get back to me, but I'll update this post if they do.