2018 Cook County judicial voting guide: 13th subcircuit

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In the 13th subcircuit, which covers northwest suburban Cook County, eight candidates are vying for three judicial seats.

Once elected, there is no difference in responsibility of the countywide judges and subcircuit judges. All voters will have the chance to vote for all countywide candidates, but voters only vote for subcircuit candidates in their own area.

Not sure if you live in the 13th subcircuit? Try using this handy map to find out. Go back to the countywide races here or learn more about our guide below.


Crane vacancy
Democratic primary:

Ketki Steffen

Ketki Steffen

Name: Ketki “Kay” Steffen (D)
Running for: 13th subcircuit: Crane vacancy
Bio: Steffen is an arbitrator for the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. She has twice served as a judge in Rolling Meadows after being appointed to a vacancy: from 2015–2016 and from 2010–2012, presiding over traffic and domestic violence cases. She spent 18 years as a Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney at Rolling Meadows, specializing in the prosecution of violent crimes. According to her campaign website, Steffen contributed to passing the Cindy Bischof Law in 2008, which allows judges to require defendants charged with violating an order of protection to wear GPS monitoring bracelets. Steffen previously ran for judge in 2012 and 2016. She runs unopposed in the subcircuit’s Democratic primary and will face the winner of the Republican primary in November.
Bar association ratings: Positive
This year: The ISBA found Steffen highly qualified, and the CBA found her qualified. The CCL, in finding her qualified, wrote that she “enjoys a reputation as a trusted and experienced criminal law litigator.”
Past: Steffen received qualified ratings from the CBA and the CCL during both of her previous runs. “Judge Steffen is diligent and highly regarded her knowledge of the law, judicial ability and integrity,” wrote the CBA in 2016.
Notable: Steffen was endorsed by the Chicago chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police in 2016, but not this year.
Survey Response: The candidate did not return answers to an Injustice Watch questionnaire.

Republican primary:

Susanne Groebner

Name: Susanne M. Groebner (R)
Running for: 13th subcircuit: Crane vacancy
Bio: Groebner has spent 17 years as a prosecutor in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and is currently the lead attorney in a felony courtroom at the Rolling Meadows courthouse. She also has civil litigation experience working on parental rights and child support cases. On her website, she highlights her support for victims’ rights and senior citizens, and her record of prosecuting violent crimes.
Bar association ratings: Positive
The ISBA and the CBA found Groebner qualified. The CCL also found her qualified, writing, “Respondents to this evaluation say that she has good litigation skills and that she is an honest and fair prosecutor.”
Survey Response: The candidate did not return answers to an Injustice Watch questionnaire.

Gary Seyring

Gary Seyring

Name: Gary W. Seyring (R)
Running for: 13th subcircuit: Crane vacancy
Bio: Seyring has spent nearly 40 years as an attorney in private practice on cases dealing with civil matters in real estate, family law, personal injury, corporations and contracts, and more. He also served as an arbitrator for the Cook County Arbitration Program. He provides pro bono assistance to first responders through the Wills for Heroes program. His campaign Facebook page describes him as “the only true conservative Republican in the race for judge.” Seyring previously ran for judge in 2014 and 2016.
Bar association ratings:  Positive
This year: The CCL, the ISBA, and the CBA found Seyring qualified. The CBA wrote that Seyring is “well regarded for his knowledge of probate, tax and family law” and “highly regarded by the judges before whom he has appeared.”
Past: Seyring was found qualified by the CBA and the CCL both in 2014 and 2016. “Mr. Seyring has an even temperament and is well regarded by his peers for his knowledge of the law,” wrote the CBA in 2014 and 2016.
Survey Response: The candidate did not return answers to an Injustice Watch questionnaire.


Lawrence vacancy
Democratic primary:

Shannon O’Malley

Name: Shannon P. O’Malley (D)
Running for: 13th subcircuit: Lawrence vacancy
Bio: O’Malley is a private attorney who handles criminal defense and bankruptcy cases. According to his professional website, he takes cases all over the Chicago suburbs and is based in Schaumburg. He is running unopposed and will face the Republican candidate in November.
Bar association ratings: Negative
The CCL, the CBA, and the ISBA rated O’Malley not recommended because he did not participate in the evaluations process. O’Malley declined to comment on his ratings.
Notable: O’Malley ran for a judicial seat in Will County under the name Phillip Spiwak in 2010. In 2012 he formally changed his name to the Irish-sounding Shannon P. O’Malley, a decades-old strategy in Cook County used to curry favor with voters. O’Malley declined to comment about the name change to Injustice Watch, but told NBC News that it was not done to win extra votes.
Survey Response: The candidate did not return answers to an Injustice Watch questionnaire.

Republican primary:

Daniel Fitzgerald

Name: Daniel P. Fitzgerald (R)
Running for: 13th subcircuit: Lawrence vacancy
Bio: Fitzgerald is a senior counsel for Walgreens, where he has worked for 13 years; his duties include ensuring the company complies with health care law and dealing with litigation on regulatory issues nationwide. Previously, he was chief legal counsel for the Office of the Inspector General of the Illinois Department of Health Care and Family Services, prosecuting Medicaid providers for fraud and abuse. He spent six years as an assistant Illinois attorney general.
Bar association ratings: Mixed
The CBA found Fitzgerald not recommended, writing, “While Mr. Fitzgerald has had a broad range of experience, his court and trial experience is limited.” The ISBA found Fitzgerald qualified, however. The CCL also found him qualified, writing, “He has handled complex litigation on his own and as a supervisor of outside counsel.” Fitzgerald did not respond to requests for comment on his ratings.
Notable: Fitzgerald is endorsed by a handful of suburban Republican Party groups.
Survey Response: Responding to an Injustice Watch questionnaire, Fitzgerald stressed the importance of judges having proper temperament for the job and says he has “extraordinary patience and calm.” (Full survey)

Michael Gerber

Name: Michael Gerber (R)
Running for: 13th subcircuit: Lawrence vacancy
Bio: Gerber currently serves as a judge in the 13th subcircuit after being appointed to a vacancy in December 2016. He hears municipal cases at the Skokie courthouse. Prior to his appointment, he spent 33 years in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and was the longest-serving prosecutor upon his retirement. He finished his career as the first chair of a felony trial courtroom in Rolling Meadows. He also teaches business law at Northeastern Illinois University. He previously ran for judge in 1998.
Bar association ratings: Positive
This year: The CCL found Gerber qualified, calling him “exceptionally knowledgeable,” but said that Gerber’s role in the wrongful conviction of Arthur Brown, which Injustice Watch reported on, kept them from finding him well qualified. The ISBA and the CBA found him highly qualified. The CBA praised Gerber for his “knowledge of the law, judicial ability, commitment to fairness, and excellent temperament.”
Past: In 1998 the CBA found Gerber qualified.
Notable: Injustice Watch reported on instances in which Gerber was accused—by a Circuit Court judge and by appellate lawyers—of knowingly contributing to wrongful convictions as a prosecutor.
Survey Response: The candidate did not return answers to an Injustice Watch questionnaire.


O’Donnell vacancy
Democratic primary:

Name: Samuel J. Betar, III (D)
Running for: 13th subcircuit: O’Donnell vacancy
Bio: Betar has served as a Cook County circuit court judge since 1998. He served as an associate judge until he was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to a 13th subcircuit vacancy in July 2017. He currently serves in the municipal department and domestic violence division at Rolling Meadows Courthouse. Before joining the bench, he worked in private practice for 15 years. He has also served as an instructor for other judges at the state and county level. Betar runs unopposed in the Democratic primary and will face the Republican candidate in November.
Bar association ratings: Positive
The CBA found Betar highly qualified, and the ISBA found Betar qualified. The CCL also found him qualified, writing that he “is praised for his ability to manage a large call and for his patience and communication skills with litigants and lawyers.”
Survey Response: In response to an Injustice Watch survey, Betar wrote he is concerned about access to legal services for the poor and that he has been active in helping design a program providing pro bono legal services to domestic violence victims. (Full survey)

Republican primary:

Cook County judicial candidate Christine Svenson

Christine Svenson

Name: Christine Svenson (R)
Running for: 13th subcircuit: O’Donnell vacancy
Bio: Svenson has owned her own law firm since 2008. Previously, she worked at two other law firms in the Chicago area. Her legal experience includes working on cases in family law, workers’ compensation, employment, domestic violence, and election law. She also works as an arbitrator in the Cook County Mandatory Arbitration program. She is active in the local Republican party and has served as the Cook County Republican Party’s general counsel. Svenson runs unopposed in the Republican primary and will face the Democratic candidate in November.
Ratings: Mixed
The CBA rated Svenson not recommended, writing, “Concerns about Ms. Svenson’s knowledge of the law, legal ability, and practice experience were raised in the wake of harsh criticism that she received from the Illinois Appellate Court for not following the Appellate Court Rules in a recent appeal that she was handling.” The ISBA and the CCL found her qualified, however. The CCL wrote, “There have been a few client complaints concerning her diligence, but on balance, she appears to be a good practitioner.” Svenson did not respond to requests for comment on her ratings.
Notable: Svenson represented a client who sued Dan Rutherford, a 2014 candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, for alleged sexual harassment. Rutherford accused Svenson and her client of fabricating the allegations to help his opponent, now Governor Bruce Rauner. Svenson denied any political motivations. She had previously received $3,500 from the Rauner campaign, but said it was for legal work reviewing a lease for Rauner. Svenson is endorsed by suburban Republican organizations.
Survey Response: The candidate did not return answers to an Injustice Watch questionnaire


Injustice Watch has spent the past several months scouring the public record about the candidates. We’ve looked through everything from the candidates’ past employment to court records and campaign contributions. We’ve studied past disciplinary trouble, and we’ve collected the recommendations of the three major bar associations: the Chicago Bar Association (CBA), the Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL) and the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA). We also offered each candidate the opportunity to complete a survey offering information detailing their experience and reasons for running. (All survey responses have been uploaded online.)

That research has led us to publish several individual articles, as well as this guide to help voters go to the polls better informed. (As a news organization, we are not endorsing any candidates, merely gathering information to help voters judge for themselves.)

Candidates file for a specific race: The candidates declare which seat they seek, and some candidates end up with no opposition at all. With the exception of a few suburban subcircuit contests, winning the Democratic primary amounts to securing the judicial post, as most candidates will face no Republican opposition in the November general election.

The candidates are running to fill openings created on the bench by a judge’s retirement, resignation, or death. Several of the candidates were given temporary appointments by the Illinois Supreme Court to fill vacancies up through the election, but each of them must compete in the elections to win a full six-year term.