Negative ratings do not dissuade voters in Cook County judicial primary

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D. Renee Jackson and Rhonda Crawford both ducked the evaluation process of a dozen local bar groups that reviewed the qualifications of candidates for Cook County Circuit judge.

As a result both were rated “not recommended,” by all 12 groups in their efforts to get on the bench. Nevertheless, both lawyers defeated candidates who received positive ratings from the bar groups and the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune, winning Democratic primary races from South Side districts that, with no Republican opponent, were tantamount to election.

A third candidate, Matthew Link, similarly won his primary contest Tuesday night after being “not recommended” by the bar groups after declining to be evaluated, but Link’s victory was no surprise: He ran unopposed after winning the support of local Democratic officials. .

In Cook County, where an often-overwhelming number of judicial candidates fill the ballot on primary election day, voters often know little about the contenders running for the bench. Instead, voters use heuristics like party identification and the ethnicity and gender of a candidate’s name to pick a winner.

Though the various bar groups put candidates through an evaluation process, most voters remain unaware of the qualifications of candidates they are asked to choose between on the ballot.

Jackson, a lawyer in private practice, said Wednesday that she was too tired from the election to explain why she did not go through the evaluation process. Crawford, a law clerk for a circuit court judge in the Cook County Markham courthouse, was not at work Wednesday, officials in the judge’s chambers said, and could not be reached for comment.

Crawford won the election over Anthony Simpkins, who was filling the vacant position temporarily by Supreme Court appointment and about whom the Chicago Council of Lawyers said, “Mr. Simpkins is considered to have good legal ability and temperament.”

Judge Maryam Ahmad, who like Simpkins was filling a First Judicial sub-circuit seat by appointment and had received positive ratings from the bar groups, also lost her seat to an opponent, Jesse Outlaw, an attorney in private practice. Outlaw was rated qualified by the Chicago Council of Lawyers, which called him an “intelligent lawyer” and praised him for his temperament and diligence”; but he was rated “not recommended” by the Chicago Bar Association after he failed to take part in its evaluation process.

Jackson won the primary over three opponents. The candidate who received the least votes,  Travis Richardson, had been endorsed by The Tribune and had received the best ratings from the bar groups among the candidates. The Chicago Council of Lawyers called him “well qualified,” citing his professionalism, work ethic, and “excellent legal ability.” He also had received a rare censure from the Illinois Supreme Court in 2008 over his handling of a client’s case, in which he took a significant portion of a settlement without having a written fee agreement.

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