Election voting guide: What to do with that long list of judges on your ballot

March 6, 2012

Updated at 10:50 p.m.

Every election we hear the same thing from voters: “What am I supposed to do about the judge elections? How on earth can I know enough to make a decision one way or another?”

We don’t have answers to either of those questions. But we can help. A bit, at least.

In the links that follow, we’ll direct you to some resources that could be handy in making your decisions. Our apologies to our friends in the collar counties; most of these links apply only to Cook County contests.

CANDIDATE FORUMS

The biggest judicial race this year is for the Cook County vacancy on the Illinois Supreme Court. The de facto incumbent is Mary Jane Theis, who holds a temporary appointment to the seat. She's joined on the Democratic ballot (in ballot order) by Appellate Judge Aurelia Pucinski (the former Cook County Circuit Court Clerk), Appellate Judge Joy Cunningham and lawyer Thomas Flannigan. The sole Republican is Judge James Riley.

The Democratic candidates took part in a debate on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight. Watch the on-air segment below, and then head to the show’s website or an extended version of the debate.

There were a few other forums in recent weeks. One sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League got a bit testy, according to the Sun-TimesAbdon Pallasch. You can watch the action courtesy of the ADL.

In late January, the candidates appeared together at a forum at Northwestern University Law School. You can read our stories about it here and here, or listen to the full thing in the audio player below.

You can also watch the Supreme Court hopefuls in their session before the Tribune editorial board.

FIND YOUR SUBCIRCUIT

Not all judicial elections are countywide. To find out which subcircuit you live in, check out these maps or pull up a sample ballot at the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners (for city voters) or Cook County Clerk (for suburban Cook voters.)

BAR ASSOCIATIONS

The major lawyer groups have all released their ratings and rankings for the upcoming primaries.

Chicago Bar Association: Rated Theis and Cunningham “highly qualified,” Pucinski and Riley as “qualified.” Flannigan was “not recommended.” See all the recommendations here, with explanations.

Chicago Council of Lawyers: Rated Theis as “highly qualified” and Cunningham as “well qualified.” Pucinski, Flannigan and Riley were found to be “not qualified.” See all the ratings here, with explanations.

Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening: Theis and Cunningham received positive ratings from all these 11 bar groups. Ten of the groups weighed-in positively for Riley, three for Pucinski and one for Flannigan. See the full chart here.

You can find all the ratings guides plus a lot more about judicial elections at a website put up by the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, voteforjudges.org.

NEWSPAPERS

The Tribune endorsed Mary Jane Theis in the Supreme Court race. You can also see all of the editorial board’s endorsements here for Cook County appellate primaries, countywide seats and subcircuits.

The Daily Herald also gave the nod to Theis to continue as a state Supreme Court justice. The paper hasn’t issued endorsements in other judicial contests yet.

The Sun-Times isn’t endorsing candidates in any election this time around.

POLITICAL SLATES

The Cook County Democratic Party endorsed Mary Jane Theis in the race for Supreme Court. You can see the full list of slated candidates on the party’s website.

Republicans are on the ballots in only a handful of Cook County judge races, and there’s only one contested GOP judicial primary. The 13th Subcircuit includes the townships of Barrington, Palatine, Hanover and Schaumburg, along with a portion of Wheeling Township. Paul Pavlus, currently an assistant Cook County state’s attorney, claims support from local Republican leaders.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

All judge candidates whose campaigns raise more than $3,000 have to file paperwork with the state Board of Elections. The campaign must state the name and address of any contributor who donates $150 or more. These details, along with how the money is spent, are filed every quarter, and the next quarterly report isn’t due until April. However, campaigns must report all donations over $1,000 within 5 business days – or within 2 business days in the final month before an election.

Here are links to the campaign disclosure pages for the Supreme Court candidates: Theis, Pucinski, Cunningham. Neither Flannigan nor Riley has filed campaign disclosure paperwork.

For all other judicial candidates, go to this page and search. (Again, if a judge candidate does not pop up on the search, it likely means he or she hasn’t raised $3,000.)

CAMPAIGN WEBSITES

Still haven’t made up your mind? Maybe reading some candidate bios, talking points and endorsement lists will help. Here are the campaign websites for the Supreme Court candidates: Theis, Pucinski, Cunningham. Here’s an old website for Flannigan. We couldn’t find one for Riley.

To find the sites of candidates running for other offices, pick your favorite search engine.