The vast majority of candidates for judge in Cook County will face no opposition on the November ballot.
And voters will also be asked to decide whether to retain 59 currently serving Cook County judges. A vote for retention gives county judges another six years on the bench before they must next stand for retention. Also on the ballot are an Illinois Supreme Court justice and a justice on the Illinois state appellate court in Chicago.
However, there are a few candidates that the groups who evaluate the qualifications of would-be judges are asking voters to not support when casting ballots in the General Election.
On Oct. 31, the Illinois Civil Justice League released its ratings of candidates for judgeships in Cook County and elsewhere in the state.
Those ratings followed the earlier release of recommendations and ratings from the Illinois State Bar Association for all judicial candidates in Cook County and throughout Illinois.
In its report, the ICJL indicated “a good number of judges have earned the voters’ trust and deserved to be retained in November.”
But ICJL president John Pastuovic cautioned voters about four Illinois judicial candidates in particular, including two in Cook County.
Three of the judges up for retention, Pastuovic said, “have exhibited behavior and judgment so egregious and outside of what should be expected of a judge, that the ICJL has created an entirely new category for them called ‘Judges Behaving Badly.’ These judges should absolutely not be retained.”
That list included Cook County Judge Beatriz Santiago, in Cook County’s Third Municipal District, which centers on Cook County’s Rolling Meadows courthouse.
The ICJL report noted Judge Santiago “was censured by the Illinois Courts Commission in 2016 for knowingly deceiving her mortgage lender about where she lives.” The report noted journalists from Medill Watchdog and WGN-TV reported Santiago claimed residency at her parent’s address so she could seek election in a Cook County subcircuit, while she actually lived elsewhere.
“The Illinois Courts Commission unanimously concluded that ‘one could reasonable characterize her actions as reckless,’” the ICJL report said.
The Illinois State Bar Association, however, has recommended Santiago be retained as a judge.
Elsewhere in the state, the ICJL recommended voters oppose the retentions of DuPage County Circuit Judge Patrick O’Shea and Whiteside County Judge Jeffrey O’Connor.
The report noted the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board has forwarded O’Shea to the Illinois Courts Commission for further action over allegations he lied to police after he allegedly fired a bullet through the wall of his apartment into an adjacent unit, and separately threatened retaliation against two female court workers who accused him of sexual harassment.
And the ICJL noted O’Connor fell asleep during a murder trial, providing an opening for the defendant to appeal his conviction.
ISBA recommended retention of Judge O’Connor, but did not recommend retention of O’Shea.
Additionally, the ICJL urged voters to reject the candidacy of Shannon P. O’Malley, a Democrat seeking election to the bench in Cook County’s 13th Subcircuit. O’Malley, a Schaumburg attorney formerly known as Phillip Spiwak, “in a blatant attempt to improve his electoral prospects, … is deceiving voters by changing his party affiliation and his perceived ethnic origin,” Pastuovic said.
“In our opinion, his cynical attempt to game the electoral process disqualifies him for any office, particularly that of judge,” Pastuovic said.
ISBA has also not recommended O’Malley.
Republican Daniel Patrick Fitzgerald is running against O’Malley in the race, and he earned a “highly recommended” rating from the ICJL and “qualified” rating from ISBA.
The race between Fitzgerald and O’Malley is one of only a handful of contested races for judgeship in Cook County.
Voters, for instance, will find only unopposed Democrats on the ballot for all countywide Cook County Circuit Court posts, and for almost all of the judicial subcircuit posts.
In contested races: Republican David Studenroth is facing Democrat Joel Chupack in the 12th Judicial Subcircuit. Both candidates are rated “qualified” by ISBA. The ICJL did not rate the candidates in that contest;
In the 13th Subcircuit, Republican Gary William Seyring is facing Democrat Ketki “Kay” Steffen. Seyring is rated as “qualified” by ISBA, while Steffen is rated “highly qualified.” Steffen was rated “Recommended” by the ICJL;
Also in the 13th Subcircuit, Republican Christine Svenson is opposing Democrat Samuel J. Betar III. Both candidates are rated as “qualified” by ISBA. The ICJL recommended Svenson.
And, in the 15th Subcircuit, Republican Karla Marie Fiaoni is facing Democrat Scott McKenna. McKenna is rated “qualified” by ISBA, while Fiaoni is rated “not qualified.” The ICJL did not rate the candidates in this contest.
Cook County voters will also be asked to vote on whether to retain Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke and Illinois First District Appellate Justice Margaret Stanton McBride.
Burke, of Chicago, who ran for electio has served on the Illinois Supreme Court since 2006 and first won election to the court in 2008. She is married to Chicago Alderman Ed Burke.
Both the ICJL and ISBA recommended retaining Burke to the state Supreme Court.
McBride has served on the state appellate court since 1998, and was last retained to a 10-year term in 2008. ISBA has recommended again retaining McBride. The ICJL took no position on the question.