Susan J. McDunn, Cook County Circuit Court Judge

Former Cook County Judge Susan McDunn.

Former Cook County Judge Susan McDunn.

SUSAN J. MCDUNN served as Cook County Circuit Judge from 1993, when she was seated following a court challenge to the results of a contested primary election, until her retirement in 2012. In 2001 the Judicial Inquiry Board filed a complaint contending that her actions surrounding her reluctance to grant adoption to lesbian parents had served to hurt “public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” and that she had failed to “perform judicial duties impartially, without bias or prejudice.” The following year, the Illinois Courts Commission dismissed the complaint against McDunn.

What the judge did:  McDunn took several steps dating back to 1998 to prevent two women from adopting the children of their lesbian partners. McDunn was the judge assigned to rule in two adoption cases that raised no objection from the parties.  The County Department of Social Services recommended both petitions, calling the potential parents “stable, loving” and “nurturing.” Commonly, Cook County judges grant such petitions without a hearing. After McDunn ordered hearings in both cases, and delayed ruling after hearing the evidence in one, attorneys for the potential parents in both cases asked that a different judge take over the case. When the presiding judge ruled in favor of the motions, McDunn declared the order of the presiding judge to be void. Instead, she sought to take more evidence, inviting Family Research Council – a religious group that contended gay adoptions are bad for children – as parties to the case.

What the Judicial Inquiry Board said:  The board filed a complaint against McDunn in February, 2001, contending that her actions had served to hurt “public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” and that she had failed to “perform judicial duties impartially, without bias or prejudice.” The board contended the judge had improperly attempted to thwart adoptions because of her own prejudice against homosexuals. The board cited questions McDunn had asked the prospective parents, such as “how long they had been homosexuals and when they had become sexually active.”

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What the Illinois Courts Commission decided:  The commission, after adding two new members, reversed itself and voted 4-3 to dismiss the Judicial Inquiry Board complaint against McDunn without a formal hearing.  The board majority concluded that McDunn’s actions involved her effort to give full consideration in unsettled areas of law, and not any violations of the Judicial Code of Conduct.

What the dissent said: Commission member Paula Wolff contended it was “inappropriate, or perhaps illegal,” for the commission to reverse itself and dismiss the complaint after new members joined the board. And she disagreed with the majority about whether the commission could decide without hearing evidence about whether McDunn was motivated by bias or legal judgment: “We must consider the judgment of the members of the JIB [Judicial Inquiry Board], after hearing evidence and researching a case,….and we must hear the evidence in those cases unless they are patently frivolous or there is a substantial reason to dismiss them, which we acknowledged last spring was not the case here.”

What happened since: McDunn continued to win re-election despite opposition from many local bar groups. She retired after a 2012 incident in which she appeared in Federal Court to say that there were court cases against her filed under seal, and she was being “persecuted” by powerful people. McDunn is to receive $137,443.08 this year in pension payments.