WBEZ | Thomas Fitzgerald http://www.wbez.org/tags/thomas-fitzgerald Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Illinois Supreme Court election: Does anybody even know it's on the ballot? http://www.wbez.org/story/illinois-supreme-court-election-does-anybody-even-know-its-ballot-96299 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2012-February/2012-02-12/AP080908024351.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-13/IL Supreme Court_AP_Seth Perlman.jpg" title="Former Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald (right) retired in the 2010, leading to this year's election. (AP/Seth Perlman)" width="512" height="334"></p><p>Voters in Cook County this year will elect an Illinois Supreme Court justice. But with just over a month before the primary election, it's getting little notice.</p><p><strong><span style="font-size: 12px;">EXTRA: </span></strong><span style="font-size: 12px;">WBEZ host Steve Edwards talked with reporter Sam Hudzik about this election. Edwards also interviewed Albert Klumpp, a research analyst at the law firm of McDermott Will &amp; Emery. Klumpp has researched judicial primary elections in Cook County, and wrote his doctoral dissertation on retention elections.</span><strong><span style="font-size: 12px;"> <em>Listen below:</em></span></strong></p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332731805-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-march/2012-03-02/edwards-klumpp-hudzik.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>Three of the seven spots on the court are reserved for Cook County, with one of the seats on the March 20 ballot. The Democratic Party contest includes Justice <a href="http://www.theisforjustice.com/">Mary Jane Theis</a>, who holds the seat by temporary appointment, along with two state appeals court judges, one of whom has a very familiar name.</p><p>Chances are you're like a lot of voters: If you got stopped on the street by a pushy guy with a microphone, you'd have a hard time naming the justices on the Illinois Supreme Court.</p><p>"I'm a lawyer, I couldn't name all the Supreme Court justices to be honest with you. Yeah, I doubt most people can," Jeremiah Posedel of Chicago said last week, standing in the underground tunnel near Chicago's Millennium Station.</p><p>"No, I don't think I do [know of any justices]," said Laura Kracke of Hyde Park. "Unless, what? Anne [Burke]?"</p><p>"Oh, yeah, [I can name them]: Kennedy, Breyer," answered Eleanor Truex of Homewood, making a commom mistake. "Oh, Illinois? No idea. Sorry."</p><p>So, it's no big surprise that a lot of Cook County voters are unaware they'll be asked to pick a state Supreme Court justice this year. The one guy I talked to who did know that election was coming couldn't name any of the candidates.</p><p>There's no judgment here. Reporters - myself included - normally provide relatively sparse coverage of judicial campaigns. But these elections couldn't be more significant.</p><p>Illinois Supreme Court justices last summer upheld the constitutionality of a major infrastructure plan funded by video gambling and a host of new taxes. Earlier this month, the court said criminal confessions obtained through torture cannot be used at trial. The justices are currently considering Cook County's assault weapons ban and parental notification for abortions.</p><p>"The Supreme Court of the United States gets all the publicity and applause or condemnation," said Thomas Sullivann, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. "But the Supreme Court of Illinois hears far more cases and deals with a far greater variety of subjects - just an incredible number of different areas of law."</p><p><strong>Partisan judges</strong></p><p>Sullivan was the opening speaker at a recent forum for Supreme Court candidates held recently at Northwestern University Law School.</p><p>Candidates for judge are not allowed to publicly say how they'd rule on any issue and for the most part these candidates followed that. So perhaps the most touchy and telling moment of the night came when the candidates talked about whether political parties should be involved in judicial elections.</p><p>A judge for nearly 30 years, Mary Jane Theis was appointed to the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald's retirement. That was October of 2010.</p><p>A year later, when Democratic officials gathered to endorse a candidate for that seat, they gave the nod to Theis, backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Mayor Richard Daley.</p><p>"This is a Democratic primary, and so certainly it would be helpful to engage in a discussion of what the Democratic Party means," Theis said at the Northwestern forum, defending her decision to seek the endorsement, and defending the party. "History has shown that - specifically for minorities - [the] Democratic Party has been a champion of their rights, and for those reasons I have very much respect for them. But I don't come as a partisan person. I am a judge."</p><p>"The Democratic Party in all likelihood, in all reality, has a very tight hold on who gets elected to the bench in Cook County," said appellate court Judge <a href="http://www.joycunninghamforjustice.com/">Joy Cunningham</a>, another candidate for Supreme Court.</p><p>Cunningham has the backing of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. If elected, she would become the first black woman to serve on the state's high court. Cunningham tried to get the party's support, but said she didn't expect it.</p><p>"It is my understanding that sometimes deals are made before the slating process even takes place," Cunningham said. "However, I felt that it was as a part of the process I felt that it was important to present my credentials in an open forum so that everyone within earshot could hear what my credentials are and give the party an opportunity to do the right thing."</p><p><strong>Impartiality or hypocrisy?</strong></p><p>Supreme Court hopeful <a href="http://www.pucinski.org/">Aurelia Pucinski</a> took a different tactic with the Democratic Party.</p><p>Pucinski served as Cook County Circuit Court Clerk for 12 years and as a judge since 2004. Her dad is the late congressman and Chicago alderman Roman Pucinski. Despite those Democratic roots, Pucinski said party endorsements for judicial candidates are a bad thing because judges are supposed to be nonpartisan.</p><p>"I have taken the stand that while we should be elected - because it forces judges to get out of their ivory tower - and talking to real people and answering real questions, which is good, that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans should endorse," Pucinski said at Northwestern.</p><p>That is the exact same message Pucinski told Cook County Democrats - to their face - when she went to the endorsement meeting in October.</p><p>But it's a hypocritical message, argued the chair of the party, county Assessor Joe Berrios. Berrios notes that Pucinski in the past has asked to be slated when she's run for judge.</p><p>"[This year] she knew that she didn't have enough votes in the room to get the slating, so she made the comment that there shouldn't be a slating, and that the Democratic Party, committeemen should stay out of this election," Berrios said in a phone interview last week.</p><p>There are a couple parts of "Aurie" Pucinski's biography that make it clear she was not going to win the party's support.</p><p>Case number 1: In 1998, she ran for Cook County Board President - as a Republican. She lost. Two: She's run against the party's endorsed candidate in judge elections before, including two years ago when she won a seat on the state appellate court.</p><p>"That's one thing that Aurie has done before. She's run against the party, and you know she's beat the party," Berrios said. "But we are working very hard for our endorsed candidate, Mary Jane Theis, and we will continue to do that."</p><p>But Pucinski begins the campaign with one big advantage: name recognition.</p><p>"I recognize her name, yes," Laura Kracke, of Hyde Park, said.</p><p>"Yes. Yes, because that's such an unusual name," said Eleanor Truex, of Homewood.</p><p><strong>Bar associations</strong></p><p>These voters said they'll do research before the election. Part of that could be looking at ratings from bar associations.</p><p>The <a href="http://www.chicagocouncil.org/">Chicago Council of Lawyers</a> last week finalized its ratings, finding Theis to be "highly qualified." Lawyers noted her "outstanding legal ability," scholarly writings and "unquestioned" integrity.</p><p>Cunningham was rated "well qualified" to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court. Council members called her a "solid, hard working jurist" who "asks good questions...and writes well-reasoned opinions."</p><p>The council had less praise for the two other Democrats, which it rated "not qualified." Pucinski was knocked for "play[ing] an advocacy role" from the bench, and lawyer <a href="http://www.tomforjudge.com/">Thomas Flannigan</a> (a self-described "longshot") was found to lack the broad legal experience necessary to serve on the state's highest court.</p><p>Ratings from other lawyer groups, including the Chicago Bar Association, are not yet available.</p><p><strong>TV ads and money</strong></p><p>Expect Theis and Cunningham to mention their ratings in upcoming TV ads. And while Theis' ads may not end up highlighting her Democratic Party support, the campaign says it will highlight another big endorsement: Mayor Emanuel's.</p><p>And she will have plenty of cash to buy ads. Theis' campaign reported having <span class="BaseText" id="ctl00_ContentPlaceHolder1_lblEndFundsAvail">$609,339 at the end of December and has raised at least $21,800 since</span> then, according to filings with the Illinois State Election Board. (see Theis' <a href="http://www.elections.il.gov/CampaignDisclosure/CommitteeDetail.aspx?id=23652">filings</a>)</p><p>Cunningham reported <span class="BaseText" id="ctl00_ContentPlaceHolder1_lblEndFundsAvail">$139,330 at the end of the year, raising more than $43,500</span> so far in 2012. (see Cunningham's <a href="http://www.elections.il.gov/CampaignDisclosure/CommitteeDetail.aspx?id=23691">filings</a>)</p><p>Pucinski had under $300 (see her <a href="http://www.elections.il.gov/CampaignDisclosure/CommitteeDetail.aspx?id=4689">filings</a>)<span class="BaseText" id="ctl00_ContentPlaceHolder1_lblEndFundsAvail">. Flannigan, who has publicly sworn off donations, has no open campaign committee.</span></p><p><strong>The sole GOPer</strong></p><p>Next November, the winner of the Democratic primary will face Judge James Riley, who was rated "not qualified" by the Chicago Council of Lawyers. Riley is running a spirited though probably futile campaign for this Cook County seat, as a Republican.</p></p> Mon, 13 Feb 2012 12:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/illinois-supreme-court-election-does-anybody-even-know-its-ballot-96299 Illinois Supreme Court candidates talk gay marriage, political endorsements and campaign contributions http://www.wbez.org/story/illinois-supreme-court-candidates-talk-gay-marriage-political-endorsements-and-campaign-contri <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2012-January/2012-01-27/gay cake toppers_getty_david mcnew.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Candidates for a Cook County vacancy on the Illinois Supreme Court will not say exactly what they'd do if asked to rule on gay marriage. But they offered strong hints during a forum at Northwestern University Law School on Thursday night.</p><p><strong>AUDIO: </strong>Listen to the full debate</p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483869-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-january/2012-01-26/fulldebate.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-27/gay cake toppers_getty_david mcnew.jpg" style="width: 400px; height: 300px; float: right; margin: 5px;" title="(Getty/David McNew, file) ">Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis holds a temporary appointment to the court and said it'd be inappropriate for her to say how she'd rule on gay marriage.</p><p>"You want judges who are fair, impartial, open-minded, and for that reason I am not going to comment," Theis said. "But it is true we have taken steps forward with the legislature passing the civil unions act."</p><p>Theis added that she had a role in changing some technical Supreme Court rules relating to civil unions.</p><p>Appellate Court Judge Joy Cunningham said she would not comment specifically on the issue, but left little doubt about her sympathies.</p><p>"I will say that I absolutely support equal rights on, you know, on all issues," Cunningham said. "And I also believe that it's important for us as a state and as a people to treat everybody equally, and that defines who we are not only as individuals but as [a] people."</p><p>Cunningham told the crowd she has performed civil union ceremonies. So did former Cook County Clerk of Court Aurelia Pucinski, now an appellate court judge, who said she's signed off on adoptions by gay couples.</p><p>"The law is evolving. It's evolving in the right direction," Pucinski said. "I think the life of families is changing, our definition is changing and we have to embrace that, welcome it, and be open to it."</p><p>Lawyer Thomas Flannigan said he thinks gay marriage will eventually become law, but he warned about making sure people who oppose it have rights.</p><p><strong>Political issues</strong></p><p>The candidates also debated the sticky issues of political party endorsements and campaign contributions for judges.</p><p>Theis, who is backed by the Cook County Democratic Party, said there is nothing wrong with a judge seeking a party endorsement.</p><p>"I'm trying to find as many people as I can to tell my story about my 28 years of service, and that includes elected officials," Theis said, adding that she has "very much respect" for Democrats because of the party's record on minorities' rights.</p><p>"But I don't come as a partisan person," she said. "I'm a judge."<img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-27/Il sup court_hudzik.jpg" style="width: 300px; height: 225px; float: left; margin: 5px;" title="Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis (left) was appointed to the court in late 2010. (WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)"></p><p>Pucinski said she believed political parties should stay out of elections for judges.</p><p>"We are not only supposed to be non-partisan, we're required to be non-partisan," Pucinski said. "We're not supposed to have a partisan platform."</p><p>While several of the candidates talked of possible reforms to the funding of judicial elections, Flannigan, a self-described long shot, went the farthest. He said he's swearing-off campaign contributions.</p><p>"Puts me at a certain disadvantage," he said. "But that's how I'm going to do it."</p><p>The winner of the March 20th Democratic primary faces Judge James Riley, a Republican, in November.</p><p>The Supreme Court vacancy was created in the fall of 2010, when then-Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald announced his retirement.</p></p> Fri, 27 Jan 2012 06:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/illinois-supreme-court-candidates-talk-gay-marriage-political-endorsements-and-campaign-contri