Cook County’s chief judge has secured a sixth consecutive
term at the helm of Illinois’ largest circuit court, after a majority of the
county’s circuit judges chose him over a rival in a relatively close,
closed-door vote, ending a hotly contested race which drew a rare, large amount
of public input from beyond Cook County’s courthouses.
On Thursday, Sept. 15, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C.
Evans was selected to serve another three years in the post, which he has held
each year since 2001.
In the balloting that began at 3 p.m. behind locked doors on
the 17th floor of the Daley Center in the Loop, Evans, a former alderman
and Chicago mayoral candidate, collected 129 votes from the county’s 241
circuit judges, according to those presiding over the vote.
The challenger, Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Allen, also
a former Chicago alderman, received 103 votes.
The balloting session ended shortly before 5 p.m.
A third potential candidate, Circuit Judge Sandra Ramos had
withdrawn her candidacy in the days preceding the vote, according to published
reports, decrying the “politics” surrounding the chief judge vote.
Evans, the first African-American selected to serve as the
county’s top jurist, had been beset in recent weeks by a spate of public accusations
of favoritism in appointing associate judges to fill judicial vacancies and in
dealing with the county’s judges. And he has been criticized – particularly by
Allen – for his handling of a scandal in which one of his law clerks, who is
running unopposed for a seat on the Cook County bench, had been allowed by
another judge to preside over traffic cases while wearing that judge’s robes.
The law clerk, Rhonda Crawford, has been fired and the judge, Valarie Turner,
was reassigned to duties that don’t involve hearing cases while an
investigation into the matter continues.
Crawford remains the Democratic nominee for the judicial
post in Cook County’s 1st Subcircuit. She faces no challenger.
According to published reports, Allen particularly pressed
Evans to deliver a full accounting of the matter. Evans has stated he is barred
by rules from commenting any further on the matter.
After securing his first win in a contested field in 2001,
Evans had faced only one real challenge for the chief judge’s office, in 2010.
In the other votes, he had won reelection easily.
This time, the strength of Allen’s challenge persuaded a
relatively large number of those outside the judicial chambers to weigh in on
A group of African-American ministers from Chicago, for instance,
rallied to support Evans, threatening to lead a movement to vote not to retain
any judges who didn’t vote to support Evans.
And Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown released a
letter publicly endorsing Evans’ reelection.
Evans’ political history – and his history of clashes with
other powerful officeholders in Chicago - dates back decades. Before willing
election to the Cook County bench in 1992, Evans had served as alderman
representing Chicago’s 4th Ward. As alderman, he had unsuccessfully
sought selection as Chicago’s interim mayor following the death of former Mayor
Harold Washington in 1987. In that contest, the City Council chose Alderman
Eugene Sawyer to replace Washington.
In the ensuing regular mayoral election two years later,
Evans again sought election, but was defeated when voters chose former Mayor
Richard M. Daley.
Evans was then defeated in the race for alderman in 1991 by
Toni Preckwinkle. She now serves as Cook County Board President.
The ministers who rallied in support of Evans had accused
Preckwinkle of backing Allen. Preckwinkle’s spokesman called such accusations “baseless
rumors,” in a report published by the Chicago Tribune.