As voters head to the polls in early voting in advance of the March 20 primary election, a number of organizations are asking voters to take a closer look at the candidates for open judge positions in Cook County and elsewhere.
Monday, the Illinois Civil Justice League released its scorecard for the 2018 primary races, evaluating some of the candidates seeking a place on the bench, presiding over the county’s courtrooms.
John Pastuovic | Illinois Civil Justice League
“We are pleased to report that voters, particularly in Cook County, will have the opportunity to vote for a number of candidates who will bring a high level of knowledge and experience to the bench,” said John Pastuovic, president of the ICLJ.
Recently, the Illinois State Bar Association also released its evaluations of judicial candidates in Cook County and throughout the state.
As in years past, the recommendations from the ICLJ and ISBA do no square on all points.
In all, the ICLJ delivered recommendations in eight Cook County circuit and subcircuit judicial races. Grades ranged from “recommended” and “highly recommended” to “not recommended.” Candidates received “recommended” ratings who “have demonstrated a satisfactory level of competency in regards to their legal and/or judicial careers, and/or who have demonstrated their commitment to educating the voters about their background, experience and viewpoints on the judicial system,” the ICLJ said in a prepared statement, accompanying its ratings.
Information on all Cook County judicial candidates, and other judicial candidates, including questionnaire answers to queries submitted by the ICLJ and others, is available online at the website for the ICLJ’s judicial evaluation project, “Judges: Good and Bad – You Can’t Afford to be Indifferent,” at illinoisjudges.net.
The ICLJ said its report and rankings are based on a combination of answers to questionnaires submitted to all judicial candidates, as well as “judicial and career records, media accounts, bar ratings, campaign contributions, and other sources of information about each judge and judicial candidate.”
The ICLJ delivered only one “not recommended” grade, noting candidate Shannon P. O’Malley, a Schaumburg lawyer who is running as a Democrat for a seat in Cook County’s 13th Judicial Subcircuit, has apparently changed his name and party affiliation “in a blatant attempt to improve his electoral prospects,” the ICLJ said.
Previously, the ICLJ noted, O’Malley had run as a Republican for a judicial seat in Will County in 2010, at that time under the name Phillip Spiwak.
“In our opinion, his cynical attempt to game the electoral process disqualifies him for any office, particularly that of judge,” Pastuovic said.
The ISBA also rated O’Malley as “not recommended,” after the candidate purportedly “declined to participate in the judicial evaluation process.”
For the position of countywide Cook County circuit judge, the ICLJ highly recommended only one candidate, Keely Patricia Hillison, a Democrat who is seeking to fill the vacancy left from the retirement of Judge Thomas E. Flanagan in 2016.
In her questionnaire, Hillison, a partner at the firm of Parrillo Weiss LLC in Chicago, noted 29 years of legal experience, arguing cases in courtrooms in Chicago and elsewhere in the state, including a win before the Illinois Supreme Court in the 2010 case of Founders v Munoz, which enabled insurers to exclude coverage to “anyone operating a motor vehicle without a reasonable belief that he or she is entitled to do so.”
She said she would support reforms to the Illinois court system, including “the way in which judges are selected.”
“Currently, several avenues to the bench can be manipulated to select judges by virtue of friendship, family or political connections rather than selecting judges who have qualities such as integrity, impartiality, legal ability and even temperament,” Hillison wrote.
She also said she favored limits placed by the Illinois Supreme Court on the number of “baseless and harassing lawsuits” litigants deemed “indigent” by the court should be allowed to file before they are charged court fees.
In the ISBA evaluations, however, Hillison is considered “Not Qualified.” The ISBA drew attention to “concerns raised over the extent of her experience with complex litigation and depth and breadth of her practice.” The ISBA also noted “three of her appellate briefs resulted in sanctions against her firm for frivolous appeals.”
In that race for the Flanagan vacancy, which includes candidates Amanda Moira Pillsbury, Preston Jones Jr. and Ioana Salajanu, only Jones was rated “qualified” by the ISBA. He was appointed to the circuit court in September 2017, and is assigned to traffic court for the First District Municipal Department. Before serving as judge, Jones spent his career as a public defender, where the ISBA said he accumulated “extensive jury and bench trial experience.”
In the ICLJ rankings, other candidates earning “highly recommended” or “recommended” ratings included:
Frederick Bates, seeking to replace Judge Bertina Lampkin in the county’s 2nd Subcircuit;
Ed Underhill, to replace Judge Richard C. Cooke, in the county’s 6th Subcircuit;
Rishi Agrawal, to replace Judge Sheryl Pethers, in the county’s 8th Subcircuit;
Stephanie Saltouros, to replace Judge Eileen O’Neill Burke, in the county’s 10th Subcircuit;
Gerald Cleary, to replace Judge Donald Suriano, in the county’s 10th Subcircuit;
Daniel Fitzgerald, to replace Judge Jeffrey Lawrence, in the county’s 13th Subcircuit;
And, Christine Svenson, to replace Judge Kevin O’Donnell, also in the county’s 13th Subcircuit.
Fitzgerald and Svenson are running as Republicans. All other candidates have filed as Democrats.
Of the races rated by the ICLJ, the Illinois State Bar Association delivered the following evaluations:
In the 2nd Subcircuit, for the Lampkin Vacancy, Bates was rated “Qualified,” as was his opponent, Tiana Ellis Blakely;
In the 6th Subcircuit, for the Cooke Vacancy, Underhill and his Democratic opponents, Charles Beach and Andrea M. Weber, all received grades of “Qualified;”
In the 8th Subcircuit, for the Pethers Vacancy, Agrawal and his Democratic opponents, Jeanne M. Wren and Myron M. Mackoff, were all rated “Qualified;”
In the 10th Subcircuit, for the O’Neill Burke Vacancy, Saltouros received a grade of “Qualified,” along with her Democratic opponent Lorraine Murphy. Democratic candidate Gwyn E. Ward-Brown was rated “Not Qualified.”
In the 10th Subcircuit, for the Suriano Vacancy, Cleary and Democratic opponents Jill R. Quinn and Colleen Reardon Daly each receive grades of “Qualified.” Democratic candidate Thomas J. Gabryszewski was rated “Not Qualified” and Democrat Noreen P. Connolly was rated “Not Recommended.”
In the 13th Subcircuit, for the Lawrence Vacancy, Fitzgerald is rated “Qualified,” while fellow Republican Michael Perry Gerber is rated “Highly Qualified.” Democrat O’Malley is “Not Recommended.”
And in the 13th Subcircuit, for the O’Donnell Vacancy, Svenson and Democrat Samuel J. Betar III are rated “Qualified.”