Circuit judges will vote Thursday to elect the next chief judge to oversee the Cook County court system. Chief Judge Timothy Evans has held the position for 18 years and faces challenger Lorna Propes, who is promising judges that she’ll protect them from public criticism.
In online videos, Propes, a judge and former Cook County assistant state’s attorney, said the courts were being undermined by special interest groups who were making “unjustified and baseless attacks.” She said when reports are false and biased, the courts need a strategy to address them and she promised judges she'd defend them when they were “maligned by unfair political attacks”
Propes’ campaign promise comes after a Cook County judge failed last year to retain his seat in what’s called a retention election. It was the first time in nearly two decades that voters used the often ignored judicial elections to remove a judge. Judge Matthew Coghlan was scrutinized by justice advocacy groups for having a racial bias and hammered in the media for being lenient on police officers, while being overly harsh on other defendants.
In a rare move, the Cook County Democratic party refused to recommend him for retention.
Following his failure to be retained, a community group that organized to unseat him released an online statement saying the election sent a message to the Cook County judiciary.
“We are watching you. We are watching how you assign bond, how you sentence black and brown defendants, how you sentence police officers, how you treat domestic violence victims, and how you address black attorneys and defendants,” read the online statement.
Coghlan said the advocacy groups “misrepresented” his record.
Propes, in her online video, said she decided to run after that election because she saw “judges were battered by an unprecedented series of attacks from special interest groups,” and the current administration was unresponsive.
Evans, in his campaign video, highlighted problem solving courts that opened under his leadership like the mental health courts, restorative justice courts and courts for veterans.
“I hope that you will agree that over the years working together with a commitment to fairness and integrity we have brought reforms to our courts that are both innovative and compassionate,” said Evans in the online video.
Evans also highlighted the court’s initiatives to find jobs for people on probation and provide childcare for people attending court.
The chief judge oversees the county court system with a budget of about $270 million and a staff of about 2,400. 254 circuit judges will vote by secret ballot on Thursday in a room at the Daley Center in downtown Chicago.
Shannon Heffernan is a WBEZ criminal justice reporter. Follow her at @shannon_h.