Unlike most of the winners in Tuesday’s primary election, almost all of the victors of Cook County’s judicial races can call it quits on campaigning.
As several of the nearly two dozen judicial races were uncontested in the primary and only one has opposition from the other political party, Tuesday’s election served as main show for candidates as it picked the presumptive winners of the November General Election.
All of the winning candidates were Democrats, with the exception of two sub-circuit races. There was no Democratic candidate in one of those races, leaving two Republicans to face off in what turned out to be a close GOP primary, and the winner of the other will be determined by voters in November.
While the majority of Tuesday's judicial winners were endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party, which did not publicly provide support to any of the candidates in the sub-circuit races, there were two exceptions.
Out of 14 candidates, three for the appellate court and 11 for countywide judgeships, who received endorsements from the party, two – Cook County Judges Freddrenna M. Lyle and Alfred M. Swanson Jr. – lost.
Lyle, a resident sub-circuit judge, lost a three-way race to fill one of the three vacancies on the First District Appellate Court and Swanson, a circuit judge, lost a two-way race to fill a countywide circuit judgeship. Both are judges by appointment.
Despite having the party’s support, Lyle lost to Sheldon “Shelly” A. Harris, who has been sitting on the appeals panel since the state high court appointed him to the post in 2010.
Suburban Cook County election results show that Harris garnered 40.36 percent of the vote, followed by the third candidate in the race, Cook County Circuit Judge Susan Kennedy Sullivan, at 30.15 percent and then Lyle with 29.5 percent of the vote.
Results from the City of Chicago’s Board of Election Commissioners, however, shows that Lyle received the largest percentage of the city vote at 38.79 percent, followed by Harris at 35.82 percent and Sullivan at 25.83 percent.
Regardless of Lyle’s lead in the city, Harris came out the winner, although election results aren't official until they are certified next month.
The Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) deemed him “qualified,” but Sullivan and Lyle “unqualified” in its judicial evaluations. The Chicago Bar Association (CBA) found Harris and Lyle to be “qualified,” but gave Sullivan a “not recommended” rating while the Chicago Council of Lawyers deemed Lyle “unqualified” and the others “qualified.”
Campaign contribution records, however, do show that Harris put in way more money than his two opponents.
Records show Harris’ campaign committee had nearly $155,000 at the end of last year, and received $800,000 in the form of eight $100,000 donations from Harris’ wife, Jane, and the candidate himself since the beginning of 2014.
During that same period of time, Harris’ committee reported receiving one $1,000 donation from Kevin Conway of Cooney & Conway and his wife, Linda, and about $6,500 in catering from Grund & Leavitt.
Lyle’s campaign committee had about $12,650 at the end of last year and reported 17 donations since January, many of which ranged from $1,000 to $5,000.
Records show that several trial attorneys donated to Lyle’s campaign, including some from Power Rogers and Smith, Clifford Law Offices, Salvi Schostok & Pritchard, Cooney & Conway, Romanucci & Blandin LLC and Pavalon & Gifford.
Sullivan, the third candidate in the race to fill the appellate court vacancy created by the death of Justice Joseph Gordon, had slightly less than $10,000 in her campaign coffer at the end of last year, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records.
Her campaign committee reported receiving about four donations this year, including a $10,000 from the candidate, $3,000 in individual donations and a nearly $6,000 contribution that paid for newspaper advertising.
It’s unclear how much these candidates spent in the months leading up to the election as quarterly reports detailing total contributions and expenditures spent between Jan. 1 and March 31 aren’t due until April.
Swanson, the other Democratic Party-endorsed candidate who lost, was defeated by Chicago solo attorney Bridget Anne Mitchell in their bid to fill the “Arnold vacancy," a countywide circuit judgeship.
Both Swanson and Mitchell received “qualified” ratings from the ISBA, CBA and CCL. And it appears they were on relatively equal footing when it came to campaign contributions.
Records show Swanson’s campaign committee had nearly $14,000 at the end of last year and reported receiving $12,500 in nine donations since January. Two of those donations, totaling $4,500, came from Swanson, while the others came from attorneys at Clifford Law Offices and the firm of Salvi Schostok & Pritchard, among others.
Mitchell’s campaign committee ended the year with nearly $18,750 and only reported receiving one donation since January. That donation was for $6,000 and was from Mitchell.
Despite facing an opponent with a few thousand dollars more and the party’s endorsement, Mitchell garnered the win with 64.45 percent of the city’s vote and 62.72 percent of the votes in suburban Cook County compared to Swanson’s 35.55 percent and 37.28 percent, respectively.
The other contested primary race for the First District was won by John B. Simon, who was appointed to the appeals panel in October 2012 and was endorsed by the county’s Democratic Party.
Simon beat out Cook County Judge Sharon Oden Johnson to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice John O. Steele. Simon received “highly qualified” ratings from the ISBA and CBA, which deemed Johnson “not qualified” and “not recommended.”
Election results show that Simon captured 56.77 percent of the vote in suburban Cook County and 52.51 percent in the city, compared to Johnson’s 43.23 percent and 47.49 percent.
The third race for the appellate court was won by David Ellis, who ran unopposed and will fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Michael J. Murphy. Ellis used to work for House Speaker Michael Madigan and served as the prosecutor in former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment trial.
In addition, results from the city and suburban Cook County election websites as of early Wednesday afternoon show the following Democratic candidates won their bids for election to various judicial sub-circuits:
Steven G. Watkins, Terrence J. McGuire, Robert D. Kuzas (unopposed), Judy Rice, Megan Elizabeth Goldish, Anjana Hansen, , Abbey Fishman Romanek, Anthony C. ''Tony'' Kyriakopoulos, Pamela McLean Meyerson, John J. Mahoney, John Michael Allegretti, James L. Kaplan and Patrick Kevin Coughlin.
Unofficial election results show Chris Lawler leading his five-way race for the 15th Judicial Sub-circuit by 11 votes, as of late Wednesday night. That close of a margin could trigger the candidate with the next most votes, Michael B. Barrett, to seek a discovery recount.
Kaplan is the only winner in Tuesday's Democratic primary who will face a challenger in the November election. He is set to square off against Republican James Paul Pieczonka in the General Election in their bid for the 12th Judicial Sub-circuit.
And in the only judicial race without a Democratic candidate, a rather rare occurrence in Cook County, election results show that Republican John Curry beat Gary W. Seyring, his challenger in the GOP primary for the 13th Sub-circuit, by about 100 votes.
Results show Curry, a trial lawyer at Polsinelli P.C. who received the endorsement of the Cook County Republican Party, garnered 50.22 percent of the votes, compared to the 49.78 percent Seyring, a certified public accountant and solo practitioner, received.
The Cook County Clerk's office reported 229,383 ballots cast in Tuesday's primary --a 16 percent voter turnout. The city reported similar numbers with 220,649 ballots cast, a 16.13 voter turnout.
Editor's note: This story has been updated. It previously said there were no contested Cook County judicial races in the November election. We regret this error. The story was also updated to include the vote percentages as more of the precincts had been reported on the city and county election websites.