[Update 2/24: This article has been amended to include comments from candidate Scott Lipinski, who commented after the article was already published.]
Matthew Link has no website promoting his candidacy for a Cook County judgeship. He has no fundraising committee. He lacks extensive trial experience. Both of the two leading Cook County bar groups found him “not recommended,” in ratings released this past week.
But he has one qualification that trumps all of that. For eight years, Link has worked as legal counsel for the City of Chicago Finance Committee, which is chaired by Alderman Ed Burke. Link is assured of winning not just the primary election, but of winning election to the bench: He is running unopposed for the western Cook County subcircuit vacancy.
Link is a striking example of how good recommendations and a strong record do not necessarily dictate who sits on the bench.
Of the 81 candidates running for 33 judicial seats this election, 16 have failed to be recommended for the bench by both the Chicago Bar Association (CBA) and the Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL). Another 13 have received negative evaluations by one or the other. Of the 23 Cook County contested judicial races, seven have only one contender rated qualified or higher by both bar groups.
The Council of Lawyers released its ratings on Tuesday, along with the ratings of 11 other local bar associations that jointly interview the candidates. The two groups devote the most effort into the evaluations; the Chicago Bar Association released its own evaluations last week after its conducting its own separate reviews.
The reviews represent a determined effort by bar groups to inform voters, who often enter the polls knowing little if anything of the candidate’s qualifications. The result is that candidates have historically won election based on factors such as whether their names sound familiar, suggest an ethnicity, or suggest a gender.
Despite the effort of the bar associations, 11 candidates for Cook County judge have won election to the bench despite negative ratings from both of the bar groups since 2010.
Winning the Democratic primary tends to amount to victory in heavily-Democratic Cook County, both in the countywide judicial races, as well as most of the subcircuit races. Being slated by the Cook County Democratic party, or key ward organizations, can be decisive.
Link has made two contributions totaling $1,000 to the 14th Ward Democratic organization in the past two years, state Board of Election records show. Burke, the head of the finance committee, is the 14th ward alderman, and for years has headed a county Democratic party subcommittee to decide which judicial candidates to support.
Link failed to win support from any of the 12 bar associations, or from the CBA and CCL who both noted he failed to take part in the evaluation process.
Neither Link nor Burke returned messages.
Scott Lipinski, a public defender in the Bridgeview courthouse, notes on his campaign website both that he has always supported the Democratic party, and that he is a lifelong union member.
But Lipinski received negative evaluations both from the CBA and the CCL, which noted that lawyers reported that Lipinski “on occasion will lose his temper in a professional setting.” Lipinski did not return requests for comment before publication. [Lipinski contacted Injustice Watch on 2/24 and said: “I’ve always been professional to any State’s Attorney or any judge.” He said of the Council’s assessment of his temperament: “I think it was very unfair for them to say that. They would not give me any instances.”]
Lipinski’s mother, Marcella Lipinski, was a Cook County Circuit Judge for 8 years before resigning in 2008. The former judge stepped down after police ticketed her for disorderly conduct, citing her use of racial slurs after a car accident, according to news reports. The reports state she was moved to marriage court for the remainder of her tenure as a judge and that she was later found not guilty of disorderly conduct.
Scott Lipinski’s sole opponent, Rossana Patricia Fernandez, is backed by the Cook County Democratic Party and is running for a permanent seat on the bench after being appointed by the state Supreme Court in February, 2015 to fill a vacancy.
Like Fernandez, Daniel Patrick Duffy is also running after being appointed by the state Supreme Court to fill a vacancy in 2014. The CCL, unlike most of the other bar groups including the CBA, found Daniel Patrick Duffy not qualified, citing complaints from attorneys about his “incivility in their dealings with him.”
The CCL also expressed concerns about Duffy’s appeal of an unsuccessful lawsuit he brought over a $300,000 debt he owed from a failed kitchen goods shop on Michigan Avenue. A federal appeals court levied sanctions last year after deeming Duffy’s appeal of the case “frivolous.”
But Duffy has political connections close to home: He’s married to Shelia O’Grady, the former chief of staff to Richard M. Daley. The former mayor volunteered as an honorary chairman for Duffy’s campaign, and hosted a fundraiser for Duffy last summer, according to news reports.
He is running against two “qualified” opponents and one opponent, Monica Torres-Linares, who was not recommended after she declined to take part in the evaluation process.
Two lawyers who in the past were disciplined by the state Supreme Court over their work as attorneys both were “not recommended’ by the bar groups after failing to participate in the evaluation process. One, Gregory LaPapa, running for a countywide seat, had been suspended from practicing law for a year after he used his client’s settlement money for his personal business. LaPapa told Injustice Watch he regretted what had happened.
The other, James DiChristofano, a candidate for a subcircuit seat in northwest Cook County, was suspended from practicing law for 30 days in 2014 after he failed to pay another attorney for his services in a complex land sale.
Deidre Baumann, who did participate in the evaluation process with the CCL but not with the CBA, was given negative ratings by both groups in her run for a countywide judicial seat. In finding her “not qualified” for the post, the CCL noted an assessment they made in 2011 during a previous judicial bid. The council said that while many other lawyers respected her work, “a significant number questioned whether she had been knowledgeable enough in the cases they had opposed her,” adding that she had been the subject of two unfavorable opinions by judges.
Subsequent assessments of Baumann’s work yielded similar opinions by the council, the report said.
Other candidates both bar groups found not recommended for the judicial post are: Bonnie Carol McGrath, Brian O’Hara, Rhonda Crawford, D. Renee Jackson, Jameika Mangum, Carlos Claudio, Jennifer Ballard, Mable Taylor, Patrick D. John and Alex Kaplan.
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