UPDATE: This guide has been updated from the previous version published in March.
On November 8 Cook County voters will once again be asked to decide on which candidates should become Circuit Court judges, with 11 vacancies for countywide seats and another 22 vacancies for one or another of the 15 sub-circuits. If history is a clue, many people who show up to cast a ballot in the presidential, U.S. Senate, or State’s Attorney races will simply skip the judicial races altogether. And many of those who do cast votes will do so without knowing much if anything about the candidates — making choices by the sound of the candidate’s name, or by the recommendation of the local party organization.
Here at Injustice Watch, we believe these races matter: Circuit judges have great power over people’s lives. And for many of these races, winning the primary amounts to winning the seat; in much of the county, the Democratic primary is the decisive contest.
Investigations that expose, influence and inform. Emailed directly to you.
With all that in mind, Injustice Watch has set out to offer voters a guide to the candidates, on the theory that information makes democracy work better.
An alliance of 11 bar associations jointly review the candidates and then each association rates the candidates; and the Chicago Bar Association (CBA) separately conducts interviews. We reviewed those evaluations, and especially focused on three that offered in depth comments: The Chicago Bar Association, the Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL) and the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA). We also sifted through the Chicago Tribune endorsements, rare past censures from the state Supreme Court; and our own reporting. What follows is our breakdown.
Confused about which candidates will be on your ballot? All voters in Cook County will get to cast ballots in the 11 countywide races. If you’re not sure which sub-circuit you live in, city residents can check here and suburban voters can check here. Good luck!
Skip down to a race:
Countywide: Biebel | Countywide: Elrod | Countywide: Hogan | Countywide: Howlett | Countywide: Johnson | Countywide: Karnezis | Countywide: Love | Countywide: O’Brien | Countywide: Palmer | Countywide: Ruscitti Grussel | Countywide: Walsh | 1st sub-circuit: Brim | 1st sub-circuit: Hopkins | 2nd sub-circuit: Savage | 4th sub-circuit: Kunkle | 5th sub-circuit: Eadie-Daniels | 5th sub-circuit: Stuart | 5th sub-circuit: Williams | 6th sub-circuit: Ponce de Leon | 6th sub-circuit: Santiago | 6th sub-circuit: A | 7th sub-circuit: Burrell | 7th sub-circuit: Rivkin-Carothers | 9th sub-circuit: Berman | 10th sub-circuit: Howard | 11th sub-circuit: Kelly | 11th sub-circuit: Zwick | 12th sub-circuit: Kazmierski | 12th sub-circuit: Mathein | 12th sub-circuit: Tristano | 12th sub-circuit: A | 13th sub-circuit: Fecarotta | 14th sub-circuit: Murphy |
Countywide, Biebel vacancy:
John Fitzgerald Lyke (D): Positive ratings. Lyke, who is running uncontested, was rated “qualified” by the CCL and the ISBA. The CBA rated him “highly qualified” and said he is “well regarded for his knowledge of criminal law and judicial demeanor.”
Countywide, Elrod vacancy:
Rossana Patricia Fernandez (D): Positive ratings. Fernandez received the Tribune’s endorsement and was rated “qualified” by the CBA, the CCL and the ISBA. She is reported to be a “zealous advocate for her clients,” according to the CCL’s evaluation.
Countywide, Hogan vacancy:
Alison C. Conlon (D): Positive ratings. All three bar groups found Conlon “qualified,” and she received the Tribune’s endorsement. “She receives high praise for her intelligence, diligence and temperament, and litigated some complex cases,” the ISBA wrote.
Countywide, Howlett vacancy:
Aleksandra “Alex” Gillespie (D): Positive ratings. “It’s a shame these two fine candidates are running against each other,” the Tribune wrote in its decision to not endorse Gillespie. She was rated “qualified” by all three bar groups, all three citing her experience and professional demeanor.
Countywide, Johnson vacancy:
Carolyn J. Gallagher (D): Positive ratings. Gallagher was rated “qualified” by all three bar groups. “She is reported to be a zealous advocate for her clients, but she is praised for professional demeanor,” the CCL wrote.
Countywide, Karnezis vacancy:
Mary Kathleen McHugh (D): Positive ratings. All three bar groups found McHugh “qualified.” “She has substantial civil litigation experience and is respected for her legal knowledge, diligence and professionalism,” the ISBA wrote.
Countywide, Love vacancy:
Brendan A. O’Brien (D): Positive ratings. O’Brien, who is running unopposed, received a “qualified” rating from the CBA and the ISBA and a “well qualified” rating from the CCL, which found him to have “unquestioned” integrity and “very good legal ability.”
Countywide, O’Brien vacancy:
Maureen O’Donoghue Hannon (D): Positive ratings. Hannon is running uncontested and was deemed “qualified” by the CCL and the ISBA. The CBA, which gave her a rating of “highly qualified,” said she “has tried many complex cases and is highly regarded for her knowledge of the law and legal ability.”
Countywide, Palmer vacancy:
Susana L. Ortiz (D): Positive ratings. Ortiz was rated “qualified” by all three bar groups. “Lawyers say she is a zealous and persuasive advocate for her clients,” the CCL found in its evaluation.
Countywide, Ruscitti Grussel vacancy:
Daniel Patrick Duffy (D): Mixed ratings. While Duffy was found “qualified” by the CBA and the ISBA, the CCL found him “not qualified” on the basis of “several issues.” Those included sanctions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for what they called a frivolous appeal he brought as a personal litigant, and the CCLA also noted many attorneys reported “incivility in their dealings with him.”
Countywide, Walsh vacancy:
Patrick Joseph Powers (D): Positive ratings. All three bar groups found Powers “qualified” for judge; however, the Tribune chose not to endorse him because his “solo practice focuses on real estate, contract law and domestic relations.”
1st sub-circuit, Brim vacancy:
Jesse Outlaw (D): Mixed ratings. The CCL and the ISBA found Outlaw “qualified,” citing his diligence and legal knowledge. He declined to participate in the CBA’s screening process.
1st sub-circuit, Hopkins vacancy:
Rhonda Crawford (D): Not recommended. Crawford did not participate in any of the bar groups’ evaluations.
1st sub-circuit, Savage vacancy:
D. Renee Jackson (D): Not recommended. Jackson declined to participate in any of the three bar groups’ evaluations.
4th sub-circuit, Kunkle vacancy:
Edward J. King (D): Positive ratings. Running uncontested, King was found “highly qualified” by the CBA and “qualified” by both the CCL and the ISBA. King is “well regarded for his knowledge of the law, judicial ability, dedication to justice, and outstanding temperament,” the CBA wrote.
5th sub-circuit, Eadie-Daniels vacancy:
Leonard Murray (D): Positive ratings. Murray was found “highly qualified” by the ISBA and “qualified” by the CBA and the CCL; he received the Tribune’s endorsement. The ISBA said he was “praised for his ability to manage a high-volume call with many pro se litigants.” In 1999, however, Murray was suspended by the Supreme Court over his neglect in seven different cases. Read about it here.
5th sub-circuit, Stuart vacancy:
Freddrenna M. Lyle (D): Positive ratings. All three bar groups gave Lyle, who is running unopposed, a “qualified” rating.
5th sub-circuit, Williams vacancy:
Daryl Jones (D): Mixed ratings. Jones was an active member of the Judicial Evaluation Committee at the time of the CBA’s evaluations; thus, the organization gave him an automatic “not recommended” rating. He was found “qualified” by the CCL and “not qualified” by the ISBA, which wrote that concerns were raised “over his lack of recent and complex litigation, and over the depth and breadth of his relatively brief legal career.”
6th sub-circuit, Ponce de Leon vacancy:
Eulalia “Evie” De La Rosa (D): Positive ratings. De La Rosa, who is running unopposed, was found “qualified” by all three bar groups. “She is considered to have good legal ability with substantial litigation experience, despite her relatively short career,” the CCL wrote.
6th sub-circuit, Santiago vacancy:
Richard C. Cooke (D): Positive ratings. Cooke, who is running uncontested, was rated “qualified” by all three of the bar groups. The CCL noted that “he is praised for his integrity and for being exceptionally hard working.” The Sun-Times reported that Cooke had moved into the district, on Chicago’s north side, soon after losing an election for a seat on the River Forest village board last year, during which he said that he and his family “were going to spend the rest of our lives” in River Forest. Read the column here.
6th sub-circuit, A vacancy:
Anna Loftus (D): Positive ratings. Loftus, who has been endorsed by the Chicago Tribune, was found “qualified” by all three bar groups. In its evaluation, the CCL said Loftus has been praised for her “temperament and courtroom skills.”
7th sub-circuit, Burrell vacancy:
Marianne Jackson (D): Positive ratings. Jackson, unopposed for the seat, was given positive ratings by all three bar groups. The ISBA said Jackson was “highly qualified” for the judicial post, citing her legal knowledge and involvement with the juvenile diversion programs.
7th sub-circuit, Rivkin-Carothers vacancy:
Patricia “Pat” S. Spratt (D): Positive ratings. Spratt, who was appointed to a judicial vacancy and has been on the bench since 2015, was found “qualified” by the CBA and the ISBA. The Chicago Tribune has endorsed Spratt’s candidacy. The CCL, which gave the candidate a “highly qualified” rating, said Spratt is considered by others to be a resource for “research and trial tactics.”
9th sub-circuit, Berman vacancy:
Jerry Esrig (D): Positive ratings. Endorsed by the Chicago Tribune, Esrig received a “qualified” rating from the ISBA, and “highly qualified” ratings from the CBA and CCL. Esrig was most recently appointed by the Supreme Court to a judicial vacancy in 2014 and has been sitting on the bench since. In its evaluation, the CCL said Esrig is “a role model for younger lawyers.”
10th sub-circuit, Howard vacancy:
Eve Marie Reilly (D): Positive ratings. Reilly was found “qualified” by the three bar groups. In its evaluation, the ISBA noted that Reilly is considered to be “hard-working and knowledgeable.”
11th sub-circuit, Kelly vacancy:
Catherine Ann Schneider (D): Mixed ratings. Schneider was found “qualified” for a judicial post by the CCL and the ISBA. The CBA though, rated her “not recommended” in its evaluation, saying she “lacks the depth and breadth of court experience” required for a judicial seat.
11th sub-circuit, Zwick vacancy:
William Bernard Sullivan (D): Positive ratings. Sullivan, running uncontested, was given positive ratings by the three bar groups. Sullivan has been filling a judicial vacancy since he was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in June, 2015. The CBA noted that Sullivan is “well regarded for his work ethic, fine temperament and knowledge of the law.”
12th sub-circuit, Kazmierski vacancy:
Marguerite A. Quinn (D): Positive ratings. Quinn, who was endorsed by the Chicago Tribune, was found beyond qualified by the three bar groups. The CCL said Quinn, who is currently an associate judge at the Skokie Courthouse and was rated “highly qualified” by the group, is “praised for her calm and even temperament.”
Thomas W. Flannigan (R): Mixed ratings. While the CCL found Flannigan “qualified,” the other groups gave him negative ratings. In the CBA’s “not recommended” evaluation, the group said Flannigan lacked the required “depth and breadth of legal experience.”
12th sub-circuit, Mathein vacancy:
Janet Cronin Mahoney (D): Mostly favorable ratings. Mahoney was found qualified by the CBA and the CCL, which both cited her extensive appellate experience. The Chicago Tribune also endorsed her candidacy. The ISBA, however, found her “not qualified,” raising concern at her “limited trial court experience and her lack of recent non-appellate litigation.”
James Leonard Allegretti (R): Positive ratings. Allegretti, the only Republican candidate in this sub-circuit race, was given the rating of “qualified” by the three bar groups. The CCL wrote that Allegretti is “civil, even in difficult cases.”
12th sub-circuit, Tristano vacancy:
Carrie Hamilton (D): Positive ratings. Hamilton was found “qualified” by the ISBA and the CCL. The CBA found her “highly qualified,” citing that she is “highly regarded for her integrity, knowledge of the law, legal ability and outstanding demeanor and temperament.”
David Studenroth (R): Positive ratings. Studenroth was found “qualified” by all three bar groups. In its evaluation, the CBA noted his “excellent temperament” and extensive trial experience.
12th sub-circuit, A vacancy:
James Edward Hanlon, Jr. (D): Positive ratings. Hanlon, who received the Tribune’s endorsement, was found “qualified” by the three bar groups. The CBA said Hanlon was “well-rounded” with a “fine temperament.”
Steven A. Kozicki (R): Positive ratings. Kozicki was rated “qualified” by the three bar groups, and he won the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune. The ISBA noted Kozicki’s “strong legal skills and polite demeanor,” in its summary of the candidate.
13th sub-circuit, Fecarotta vacancy:
Ketki “Kay” Shroff Steffen (D): Positive ratings. Steffen was found qualified by both the CCL and the CBA. The ISBA rated her “highly qualified,” noting that she is “highly regarded by attorneys who have appeared before her.”
Kevin M. O’Donnell (R): Mixed ratings. While the CCL found O’Donnell “qualified,” he received negative ratings from both the CBA and the ISBA, which both cited his lack of trial experience in their reasoning for the negative remarks.
14th sub-circuit, Murphy vacancy:
Matthew Link (D): Negative ratings. Link was found “not recommended” by the bar associations. Link is running unopposed in his sub-circuit, and has worked for the past eight years as legal counsel for the City of Chicago’s Finance Committee, chaired by 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke. Read our coverage of Link here.
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