ILLINOIS–(ENEWSPF)–October 24, 2016
I never know quite what to do about voting in Illinois Judicial Retention Elections. Should I
- Vote “Yes” for all because most judges are hard-working and deserving?
- Vote “No” for all because if some group has a legitimate grievance it might help their cause?
(or possibly just as a general protest against “the man”?)
- Vote “No” on the 11 judges that one or two bar associations found wanting, or some subset thereof?
- Don’t vote at all because an uninformed vote is worse than no vote?
This year it looks easier than usual, though, because a number of interested parties agree in recommending “Yes” votes to retain all the judges on the ballot in Cook County. Specifically, the Cook County Democratic Party (in a mailer they sent me, they list all the judges on the Cook County ballot), the Chicago Bar Association, and the Chicago Tribune.
The Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening, which consists of 11 different bar associations (apparently not including the Chicago Bar Association) also mostly agrees. Most retention candidates are approved by all 11 member bar associations, and no candidate gets less than 9 favorable recommendations.
Here are the judges who received one or more negative recommendations:
|Irwin J. Solganick||“No” from the Cook County Bar Association (CCBA)|
|William Maki||“No” from the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago (LAGBAC)|
|Nicholas R. Ford||“No” from the Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL)|
|Charles Patrick Burns||“No” from the Cook County Bar Association (CCBA)|
|Daniel Joseph Lynch||“No” from the Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL) and from the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA)|
|Laurence J. Dunford||“No” from the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago (LAGBAC)|
|Jeanne R. Cleveland Bernstein||
“No” from the Black Women Lawyers Association of Greater Chicago (BWLA) and from the Cook County Bar Association (CCBA)
|Daniel Malone||“No” from the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago (LAGBAC)|
|Bonita Coleman||“No” from the Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL)|
|Sharon O. Johnson||“No” from the Hellenic Bar Association (HBA)|
|Sandra G. Ramos||“No” from the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago (LAGBAC)|
I tried to find more details on why these organizations made these recommendations, especially the LAGBAC because they had the most negative recommendations, but my searches were mostly unfruitful. The Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL) did provide some details on the two judges it found “Not Qualified”. There is a little more on each judge at the links provided, but I don’t think the block quotes stretch the boundary of fair use
But two decisions handed down by the Illinois Appellate Court since 2010 raise serious concerns about Judge Ford’s ability to decide cases in an impartial manner. In People v. Jackson, the Appellate Court reversed and remanded a first degree murder conviction rendered by Judge Ford at a bench trial, holding he “abandoned [his] role as a neutral and impartial arbiter of fact by adopting a prosecutorial role when questioning [the] defendant’s expert witness and by relying on matters based on prior private knowledge” that were outside the record, thereby undermining the defendant’s right to a fair trial. And in People v. Pace, another first degree murder case, the Appellate Court vacated an aggregate 100 year sentence imposed by Judge Ford upon a 16-year-old defendant, finding that Ford considered and “placed significant emphasis” on impermissible factors during sentencing, including the defendant’s choice to remain silent during the sentencing hearing, Judge Ford’s personal views, and evidence not located in the record. “It is noteworthy,” continued the Appellate Court, “that the portion of the record in which [Judge Ford] announced [his] sentence goes on for 16 pages. At least four of those pages were devoted solely to [Judge Ford] discussing [his] personal feelings about gang violence; other large portions see the judge discussing the victims and stating that he was aligned with them.”
The Council is concerned that many lawyers question Judge Coleman’s knowledge of the law, although most respondents note that she does the necessary research to rule. There was a mixed response as to whether she is fair to both men and women who appear before her. Some believe she favors male parties, but others say she is fair and seeks a just outcome. The Council must balance the totality of the positive and negative comments we heard about Judge Coleman’s judicial performance. On balance, the Council finds her Not Qualified for retention.
This illustrates the difficulty in relying on these ratings. The argument against Judge Ford is very specific and concerns two murder cases. The argument against Judge Coleman is kind of wishy-washy and non-specific, at least in comparison to the other argument.
Overall, it probably doesn’t matter very much, because historically it has been very difficult in Illinois to vote any judge off the bench in a retention election. But you have to vote anyway, to elect Hillary Clinton, Tammy Duckworth, and the other good Democrats on the ballot. So you might as well at least consider how to vote on judges. Early voting in Illinois goes wide today, so get out and vote.