Would-be judge has personal expertise in bankruptcy, unfit housing

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As he seeks to become a Cook County Circuit Court judge, Alex Kaplan cites his experience litigating foreclosure, helping people facing bankruptcy, and representing both landlords and tenants in eviction cases.

What he doesn’t mention is his own personal experiences: Kaplan has lost two properties in foreclosure. He filed for bankruptcy last August as a result of his real estate debts. And he and his brother co-own an apartment and office building in northwest Chicago that has been boarded up for months after city inspectors cited it as a dangerous public nuisance.

In an interview last week, Kaplan said the financial troubles developed on a series of buildings he and partners bought to resell when real estate crashed in 2008. He said he believed the experience would make him a better judge by “being able to empathize.”

Kaplan, a Northbrook lawyer in private practice, is running in the Republican primary in the 12th sub-circuit election, which stretches along the county’s northern border, against Steven Kozicki. The sub-circuit is one of the few seats competitive between the parties in Cook County, where Democrats dominate large swaths; in 2014, Republican James Pieczonka was elected to the last vacancy in the sub-circuit.

The Chicago Council of Lawyers and the Chicago Bar Association, two prominent bar groups who evaluate judicial candidates, both separately deemed Kaplan “not recommended” for the judicial post after he failed to participate in the evaluation process. Kozicki was rated “qualified” by both bar groups.

History indicates that bar ratings and a candidate’s experience often fail to impact who gets elected in the Cook County judicial races, in which many voters either do not vote or do so having little if any knowledge of the candidates.

Kaplan told Injustice Watch he did not participate in the bar group evaluations because he did not want to be “pigeon-holed” by the groups who focus, he said, on where a candidate has worked rather than on who they are. Kaplan said he believed that, had he taken part in the evaluations, he would have been found qualified regardless of his recent bankruptcy and past foreclosures, of which he said, “We got caught in a bad market.”

County records show that Kaplan owned two buildings that were sold in foreclosure in 2012.

Then, in February, 2014, the City of Chicago sued Kaplan and his brother over their ownership of a building on Cicero south of Fullerton that included one office and three apartments. “During the time that Defendant owned and/or controlled the Subject Property, they encouraged or permitted criminal activity” on or about the property, the complaint states.

RELATED: The City of Chicago’s complaint from February, 2014

The complaint detailed a November 2013 raid in which they found tenants with heroin, marijuana, and property belonging to six different theft victims. In January 2014, the officers found a tenant in possession of heroin. Two weeks later, police arrested a tenant following a stabbing in the basement.

A team of inspectors in February 2014 visited the property and identified 38 building code violations, “a number of which are considered dangerous and hazardous.”

The city asked that Kaplan and his brother be ordered to evict the offending tenants; to improve security at the property; and to correct the violations, which ranged from bedrooms that were added in the basement and sub-basement without city approval, to faulty heating that required one tenant to use a stove to warm the apartment; to “extreme black mold on the walls and ceilings” of the sub-basement.

After a hearing, Kaplan and his brother were ordered to keep the basement vacant until further order.

Kaplan told Injustice Watch he was shocked when he got the lawsuit from the city, and said he and his brother were never told about the criminal activity.

Kaplan said both he and his brother regularly visited the property and dealt with the upkeep of it, but said that they seldom went into tenants apartments unless they had moved out. “Some of the problems came up when these tenants wouldn’t let us in,” Kaplan said.

Inspectors visited the apartment several more times in the months that followed. Those inspections turned up 58 building code violations, including a number deemed dangerous and hazardous, prompting the city to ask that all tenants be ordered to vacate and that Kaplan and his brother be ordered to board up the property. In September 2015, the brothers agreed to an order that the property remain vacant until further order.

RELATED: The City of Chicago’s complaint from February, 2015

The previous month, Kaplan had filed for personal bankruptcy, contending his personal liabilities of $1.94 million exceeded his $1.26 million in assets. The bankruptcy filing contended that Kaplan owed $400,000 on the property, which had a value of approximately $300,000.

Kaplan said the Cicero building is now going through the foreclosure process.

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