Five who lost Cook County judicial primary earn new path to bench

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Five Cook County judges rejected by voters in March have found new life on the bench: They are among 16 candidates who were named to fill vacant associate judge positions, the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts announced on Monday.

All five—Stephanie K. Miller, Charles Beach, Myron Mackoff, Patrick T. Stanton, and Gerald V. Cleary—already have been serving on the bench, appointed by the state Supreme Court to fill vacancies until after the 2018 judicial elections. But they all were in danger of losing their seats after they lost in the March Democratic primaries, though each had received favorable ratings from the local bar associations.

State law provides another route to the Cook County bench, however: The county’s circuit judges elect associate judges, who serve a four-year term with almost identical duties to circuit judges. The position offers an avenue to the bench outside the vagaries of the election process. Legal experts have long complained that voters often choose circuit judges based on the sound of their name or support from key politicians, regardless of qualifications, though some commenters were heartened by this year’s results.

According to Sean Tenner, a political consultant with expertise in judicial campaigns, the associate judge process can act as “a safeguard or safety net, in that if somebody is really exemplary and there’s a situation where the politics of winning an election are just very difficult and not in the cards, this enables the judiciary to ensure that it doesn’t lose very talented and skilled people.” Such situations can include when multiple qualified people run against one another, he told Injustice Watch. Tenner served as a consultant for Cleary, among several other candidates, during the primary election.

Associate judges earn slightly less money and may not preside over felony criminal cases without specific Supreme Court approval. The Circuit Court judges vote as the associates’ terms expire on whether to retain them; associate judges are commonly reappointed and may serve long terms on the court.

A total of 248 lawyers applied this year to be associate judges; a panel headed by Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Evans along with presiding judges from the other Cook County Circuit Court divisions then met and approved 34 to be finalists. The full circuit court then voted on which of those finalists should be awarded the 16 positions. (There was a tie for the 17th seat, which will be resolved with a runoff election in the next few weeks.)

When finalists were announced last month, eight appointed judges, including seven who ran in primary elections for the circuit court and lost, were among them. At the time, Pat Milhizer, a spokesperson for chief judge Timothy C. Evans, told Injustice Watch that, given the competitive nature of circuit court elections, “the committee does not necessarily view an election loss as a reason somebody should be disqualified from consideration for associate judge.”

Terrence Murphy, a spokesperson for the Chicago Bar Association, added that associate judge candidates are often more qualified than circuit court candidates, given that “they’ve been vetted multiple times not just by different bar associations but by a sitting group of judges.”

Appointed judges who were finalists but did not advance include Robin Shoffner, Travis Richardson, and Marina Ammendola. All three were rated positively this year by the three major local bar associations: the Chicago Council of Lawyers, the Chicago Bar Association, and the Illinois State Bar Association. Shoffner had previously been rated negatively by the Chicago Bar Association in 2016, which cited lawyers’ concerns with her “knowledge of the law, work ethic, fairness, and judicial temperament and demeanor.” Richardson was censured by the Supreme Court in 2008 for his handling of a client’s fee refund.

John Fotopoulos, who was appointed by the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy on the Circuit Court last year but did not choose to run in the primary elections, had also filed to win an associate judgeship. Fotopoulos had been named as one of the 34 finalists, but is not among the 16 chosen by the full Circuit Court.

A full list of associate judge winners is below:

Charles Beach
Joel D. Buikema
Jeffery G. Chrones
Gerald V. Cleary
Jean M. Golden
Sanju O. Green
James E. Hanlon, Jr.
Joan Marie G. Kubalanza
Myron F. Mackoff
Stephanie K. Miller
Lisette C. Mojica
Margaret M. Ogarek
Lori M. Rosen
Patrick T. Stanton
Daniel A. Trevino
William Yu