In its newly released recommendations for next month’s judicial primary races, the Illinois State Bar Association found that ShawnTe Raines-Welch – the wife of Illinois House Speaker Emanuel Chris Welch – is “not qualified” to take a spot on the bench in Cook County.
With heavy help from her husband and his allies in Springfield, Raines-Welch is running in the Democratic primary on June 28 against three other candidates in the 4th judicial subcircuit, which covers a swath of the Chicago suburbs.
Earlier this month, the speaker defended aiding his wife’s campaign, describing her as “an exceptionally qualified Black woman who can make history.”
But the bar association said two of her rivals for the nomination, Chloe G. Pedersen and Jerry Barrido, are better choices than Raines-Welch. A fourth candidate, Patrick Campanelli, also was found to be not qualified, according to the bar association’s judicial evaluations committee.
On its website, the bar association says its ratings are “based on detailed information supplied by candidates, a background check by trained lawyers/investigators, and interviews of each candidate.” But the bar association provided no specific reasons behind any of its decisions.
In a statement, Raines-Welch campaign spokesman David Ormsby said “ShawnTe Raines-Welch’s reputation, litigation skills, and integrity have earned her qualified and/or recommended ratings by multiple bar associations: Chicago Bar Association, Cook County Bar Association, Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago, Chicago Council of Lawyers, Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois, Hellenic Bar Association, Arab American Bar Association of Illinois and the Decalogue Society of Lawyers.”
Ormsby also alleged that it was a “blatant, blaring conflict of interest and should be disqualifying” that Pedersen is a board member of the Illinois State Bar Association.
In a statement Saturday to WBEZ, a spokesman for the state bar association denied the allegation from the Raines-Welch campaign.
Pedersen was appointed to a three-year term on the association’s board in 2021 but the board “has no involvement whatsoever in the Association’s judicial screening,” said the spokesman for the bar group, Tim Slating.
He also said, “Narratives associated with each candidate’s ratings will be released next week.”
State records show Raines-Welch has been a lawyer since 2009 and she is a partner at the Ancel Glink firm in Chicago, where her husband is “of counsel,” according to the firm’s website.
Emanuel Chris Welch became the first Black speaker of the Illinois House in January 2021, succeeding Michael Madigan after he stymied a Springfield misconduct inquiry into the longtime Springfield power broker.
Madigan, who was speaker for nearly four decades, was indicted in March on federal corruption charges. He has denied wrongdoing.
Before the gavel changed hands, Madigan recommended Raines-Welch’ in 2019 to Gov. JB Pritzker’s office for an appointment to the Illinois Liquor Control Commission. But Pritzker did not choose her for the commission.
Raines-Welch tried to be a judge last year and didn’t succeed to win an appointment to one of 10 vacancies at the time for Cook County associate judges, which are chosen by the circuit judges. In that case, her husband said he would let her “credentials speak for themselves” and not get involved in the process.
But in this judicial campaign, WTTW reported earlier this month that the speaker has helped his wife to raise more than $200,000 from his Springfield allies.
At that time, the speaker staunchly defended helping his wife’s campaign.
“Signing up to be speaker of the House I didn’t know waived my right to support my wife and my family,” he said. “My wife is my wife and best friend, and I’m going to support my wife.”
He also denied that she would represent a nepotism promotion to the bench, saying she deserved it on the merits.
“People should really be talking about her qualifications and not who her husband is,” Welch said. “It’s not fair to her. It’s not fair to the people of the 4th subcircuit, and they really should be talking about an exceptionally qualified Black woman who can make history.”
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Follow him @dmihalopoulos.