2018 Cook County judicial voting guide: 15th subcircuit

In the 15th subcircuit, which covers south suburban Cook County, five candidates are vying for two 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.

Scully, Jr. vacancy
Democratic primary: 

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Cook County judicial candidate Ashonta Rice-Akiwowo

Ashonta Rice-Akiwowo

Name: Ashonta Rice-Akiwowo (D)
Running for: 15th subcircuit: Scully, Jr. vacancy
Bio: Rice-Akiwowo runs a litigation firm in Flossmoor, where she primarily practices family law. Previously she has served as a Guardian Ad Litem in the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office. She also works as a Cook County arbitrator. Her campaign materials emphasize the importance of diversity and inclusion in the judiciary.
Bar association ratings: Negative
The CCL found Akiwowo not qualified because of concerns about a lack of “depth and breadth” in her legal experience so far. The ISBA also found her not qualified. The CBA rated her not recommended, writing, “Ms. Rice is dedicated, articulate, intelligent, and possesses a fine demeanor and temperament. However, at this stage of her career, Ms. Rice’s practice experience is limited.” Rice-Akiwowo told Injustice Watch that she felt that the concerns about the breadth of her experience “disregarded the fact that the field of family law itself encompasses many aspects of litigation and being a solo practitioner there are many other things you do to serve your clientele.”
Survey Response: The candidate did not return answers to an Injustice Watch questionnaire.

Cook County judicial candidate Michael B. Barrett

Michael B. Barrett

Name: Michael B. Barrett (D)
Running for: 15th subcircuit: Scully, Jr. vacancy
Bio: Since 1992, Barrett has worked at the firm Barrett & Sramek focusing on personal injury, workers’ compensation, and wrongful death cases. Barrett has served on judicial evaluation committees for multiple bar associations, including the CBA and the ISBA. He was appointed to Cook County’s Committee on Expanded Jurisdiction to study expanded jurisdiction at the Markham and Bridgeview courthouses and to the Cook County Committee on the Courts in the 21st Century to recommend improvements to the courts’ technological infrastructure. He provides pro bono legal services to youth sports organizations. Barrett ran unsuccessfully for judge in 2010 and 2014.
Bar association ratings: Positive
This year: The CBA rated Barrett highly qualified, noting his experience with complex cases, his “excellent legal ability,” and his “outstanding demeanor.” The CCL and the ISBA found Barrett qualified.
Past: Barrett was rated qualified by the CBA and the CCL in 2010 and 2014.
Notable: He is endorsed by the Chicago chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Survey Response: The candidate did not return answers to an Injustice Watch questionnaire.

Republican primary:

There are no Republican candidates running for this seat. 

Zelezinski vacancy 
Democratic primary:

Anthony C. Swanagan

Name: Anthony C. Swanagan (D)
Running for: 15th subcircuit: Zelezinski vacancy
Bio: Swanagan currently serves as a judge in the 15th subcircuit; he was appointed to the vacancy in April 2017. He began his judicial career in traffic court and currently presides over cases in eviction court. Before his appointment to the bench, Swanagan spent six and a half years as a law clerk for U.S. District Judges Sharon Johnson Coleman and Andrea Wood. He had also been a clerk at the Illinois Appellate Court for eight years and in-house counsel managing contract litigation and regulatory compliance for an international corporation for 10 years, eventually as the corporation’s general counsel and a member of the board of directors. He handled civil appellate matters as a solo practitioner for three years.
Bar association ratings: Mixed
The CCL found Swanagan qualified, explaining he “is widely praised for his writing skills and analytic thinking as a law clerk in both the state and federal courts.” The CBA also found him qualified, but the ISBA found him not qualified. Swanagan told Injustice Watch that he believes he got the negative rating because he sat for the ISBA evaluation in 2015, and the group was not sure if his clerkship experience would prepare him for being a judge. He feels that he has now proved that prediction wrong. “I’ve been a judge since April here, and I’m proud and happy to stand on my day-to-day handling of the cases that come before me,” he said.
Notable: Swanagan is endorsed by the Democratic Party 15th subcircuit committeemen.
Survey Response: Responding to an Injustice Watch survey, Swanagan wrote that observing judicial decision-making “at close range” as a clerk, for a wide variety of criminal and civil matters, has helped prepare him for the bench. (Full survey)

Cook County judicial candidate Scott McKenna

Scott McKenna

Name: Scott McKenna (D)
Running for: 15th subcircuit: Zelezinski vacancy
Bio: McKenna is a partner at Best, Vanderlaan & Harrington, an insurance defense litigation law firm, where he has worked since 2000. Prior to that, he worked at other local firms. He has experience in personal injury, insurance, and commercial claims law. He serves as a volunteer mentor for the Chicago Coalition for Law-Related Education for Chicago high school students.
Bar association ratings: Positive
McKenna was rated qualified by the CCL, CBA, and ISBA. The ISBA wrote, “He has substantial civil jury experience, and is considered to be well-prepared, even-keeled and punctual.”
Survey Response: Responding to an Injustice Watch survey, McKenna wrote that courtrooms should be run efficiently and transparently in order to bolster public trust in the justice system. (Full survey)

Republican primary:

Cook County judicial candidate Karla Fiaoni

Karla M. Fiaoni

Name: Karla M. Fiaoni (R)
Running for: 15th subcircuit: Zelezinski vacancy
Bio: Fiaoni practices criminal defense and family law at her own firm in Homewood. In the 1990s, she served as the chief of police in Chicago Heights for two years, making her the first female police chief in Cook County, and then served as police superintendent for a time. Before that, she spent five years working as a prosecutor in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. Fiaoni previously ran for judge in 2010 and 1998 as a Democrat, and in 1994 as a Republican. Fiaoni runs unopposed in the Republican primary and will face the Democratic primary winner in November.
Bar association ratings: Mixed
This year: The CBA found Fiaoni highly qualified, and the CCL found Fiaoni qualified, writing that she “has a range of experience which translates well into what is needed for her to be a good judge.” The ISBA found her not qualified, however. In response, Fiaoni said she can’t offer an explanation for the ISBA rating, but pointed out the discrepancy between that rating and her other strong ratings. The ISBA said that Fiaoni’s ratings were based on concerns about her experience with complex cases and inadequate answers to the survey.  Fiaoni said, “If my choice is filling out a bar exam impeccably to their satisfaction or visiting my client in jail or holding his mother’s hand while she cries because he’s been accused of a murder, I allocate my time to my clients.”
Past: Fiaoni was rated qualified by the CBA and the CCL when she ran for judge in 2010.
Notable: As Chicago Heights police chief, she implemented community policing programs, required that domestic violence be reported as assault, and faced community criticism after a police shooting.
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.