More than once while he was a Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney, Cook County judicial candidate David Herrera engaged in angry outbursts that concerned supervisors and colleagues in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, internal memos and interviews reveal.
In one 2012 incident, Herrera, angered by the decision of a female supervisor, “stood only inches from [her] face” as he spoke in a “loud and belligerent tone” challenging her determination about the credit he should receive for prosecuting a juvenile murder suspect, the supervisor wrote in a memo to superiors. Another female prosecutor who witnessed the incident later told superiors that she “felt uncomfortable” with both Herrera’s behavior and tone.
Beginning on February 21, Cook County voters will start heading to the polls to winnow down the field of 110 judicial primary candidates vying to fill 39 vacancies on the bench. For the majority of races in which there is no partisan contest, the primary elections serve as the final word in who will become a judge in Cook County. This article is part of Injustice Watch‘s continuing coverage prior to the March elections.
In a memo to the chief deputy district attorney, Fabio Valentini, then chief of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, wrote of Herrera: “This behavior is consistent with prior behavior on his part…It seems apparent that he does not fully comprehend his actions, and that he does not fully comprehend the anger that he displays during encounters with his supervisor when given instructions or instructions with which he may disagree.”
Herrera, in a telephone interview on Monday, said he spent 17 years in the State’s Attorney’s Office and that he only had problems with one supervisor during that time.
“In that much time in the office, you’re lucky if you have one supervisor you don’t get along with,” he said. “I would hate to be judged off one allegation compared to the whole body of work.”
Four former supervisors with knowledge of Herrera’s conduct in the office, none of whom would speak on the record, contended that his behavior in several incidents created concern, especially involving his relationship with female superiors. “Pretty much any female who was in a position of authority he had problems with,” one former supervisor who declined to use her name said.
Herrera, who is running in the Democratic primary for a judicial seat in the 6th subcircuit, was dismissed from the office last August, one of several prosecutors who lost their positions during budget cutbacks. He was at times assigned to felony trials, criminal appeals, serious traffic offenses, juvenile justice, and felony review, according to the State’s Attorney’s Office.
Valentini’s memo, obtained by Injustice Watch following a Freedom of Information Act request, noted that Herrera “can be an asset to this office” if he could maintain his composure. “He is energetic and enjoys his job,” Valentini wrote. “He would be far more productive at his job if he spent less time questioning directions of his superiors, and if he could better control his emotions.”
It is unclear whether Herrera was ever disciplined for the 2012 incident detailed in the memos, which involved a confrontation with his supervisor, Catherine Sanders, or any other behavior. The State’s Attorney’s Office noted that the office had withheld, as required by state law, reports detailing disciplinary action more than four years old.
Sanders prepared a memo for her bosses in January 2012, reporting that when she entered an office Herrera shared with Assistant State’s Attorney Patricia Melin, Herrera “rushed over to me and stood only inches from my face” to “emphatically” challenge her decision that the experience of a juvenile trial was not experience toward possible future promotions.
He challenged the decision not just once, she said, but repeatedly, remaining inches from Sanders’s face the whole time. Herrera’s tone, Sanders wrote, was “loud and belligerent,” adding, “He invaded my personal space while displaying insubordinate and aggressive conduct.”
Sanders did not respond to several phone calls from Injustice Watch.
The encounter took place in the presence of Melin, who was the senior prosecutor assigned to the courtroom in which Herrera was assigned as the second chair. Four days later, Valentini sent a follow-up memo to the Chief Deputy State’s Attorney at the time, Walt Hehner, noting that Melin said she “felt uncomfortable” watching the scene. In the memo, Valentini describes Melin as saying Herrera approached Sanders “in a manner consistent with a schoolyard standoff among teen boys.”
After Sanders exited their office, Melin told Valentini, she told Herrera that he “did not act appropriately towards his supervisor.”
Valentini also interviewed the office manager across the hall, according to his memo, and she confirmed that she saw Herrera “move inappropriately close” to Sanders and that he was “very loud and angry.”
Herrera said yesterday, “I did not get along with Catherine Sanders,” and that superiors had spoken to him before about his conduct towards her. He also noted that after the incident he later received a promotion within the office.
Eleven months after that incident, Melin had moved on and a new first chair, Assistant State’s Attorney Steve Krueger, wrote a memo that he had been asked to prepare on how Herrera was doing regarding “the issues which involved” his previous annual evaluation. Krueger wrote that Herrera “has exhibited respect” to his boss and his fellow prosecutors.
Krueger also wrote that Herrera was failing, despite Krueger’s prodding, to arrive on time, and to punctually prepare files and prepare for trial, leaving more work for Krueger.
Herrera now works as a criminal defense lawyer for the Luisi Legal Group, according to his campaign website. He will face two opponents in the Democratic primary for a 6th subcircuit judicial seat. One, Kent Delgado, is currently serving as a Cook County judge, after he was appointed in October 2016 to temporarily fill a vacancy on the court. Delgado had also been an Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney’s from 1996 to 2007, after which he went into private practice before the temporary appointment.
The third candidate, Sean Patrick Kelly, is a prosecutor with the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office.
The race is unusually wide open: None of the candidates are running with party backing, after the vote of the Democratic committeemen in the subcircuit was voided because of procedural questions. This has left the candidates searching for the support of individual politicians.
According to Herrera’s campaign social media pages, he has been endorsed by Cook County commissioner Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, and multiple state senators and aldermen. He has also been endorsed by former judge Gloria Chevere, whose retirement in 2016 created the vacancy.
Chevere had been involved in a series of controversies as a judge, including at 2010 report by WGN Investigates and Medill Watchdog about whether she lived within her subcircuit and a Fox 32-Better Government Association probe into whether she had taken unapproved time off during court hours. She was reassigned to a nontrial civil call in 2014 after Medill Watchdog and WGN Investigates documented a series of cases in which she sent young men to jail because their pants were sagging in her courtroom.