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.

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans

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A third potential candidate, Circuit Judge Sandra Ramos had withdrawn her candidacy in the days preceding the vote, according to published reports, decrying the “politics” surrounding the chief judge vote.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 the contest.

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.

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