No Hispanic judges chosen in associate judge election

This story was updated on Dec. 6 with statements from Chief Judge Timothy Evans and the presidents of the Puerto Rican Bar Association and Cook County Bar Association.

After criticisms about diversity among the associate judges last year, the Circuit Court of Cook County elected several people of color to the bench, but no Hispanic finalists made the cut.

The new associate judges were chosen after Cook County’s 252 circuit judges voted for their top 15 choices out of 30 finalists, selected from an initial pool of 212 candidates. The winners of the election, which ended Tuesday, were announced Thursday afternoon. Court officials don’t share vote tallies with the public, just the names of winners.

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Last year, the court faced criticism when the election resulted in only one new black candidate winning a seat. This year, court officials emphasized that diversity was a key consideration.

“The Nominating Committee employed a comprehensive approach in the nomination process that considered multiple aspects such as a variety of legal experience in the public and private sectors, and diversity of race, ethnicity and gender,” Chief Judge Timothy Evans said in a release announcing the 30 finalists.

Associate judges serve four-year terms, and are paid slightly less than circuit judges, who serve six-year terms and are chosen by voters, either countywide or by subcircuit. Associate judges and circuit judges are virtually identical in their responsibilities in the courtroom, but circuit judges can hold supervisory positions, run for chief judge, and take part in the election of new associate judges.

As of 2018, about 70 percent of Cook County judges, both associate and circuit judges, were white and 59 percent were men. Nineteen percent are black, 7.5 percent are Hispanic and 2.6 percent are Asian. Those numbers are not representative of Cook County’s population, which is 42 percent white, 26 percent Hispanic, 23 percent black, and seven percent Asian.

Of the 193 candidates who submitted to the full associate judge process, 30 percent were people of color. Forty candidates were black, and seven were Hispanic. Three of the seven were finalists, but none of them was elected, said Juan Morado Jr., former president of the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois.

“It is a huge disappointment,” Morado said. “In Cook County, Latinos make up the second largest ethnic group and we are grossly underrepresented on the bench. It’s a missed opportunity to put qualified Hispanic judges on the bench.”

Claudia Badillo, president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Illinois, called the outcome “disgraceful.”

“While the Illinois Supreme Court and Chief Judge [Timothy] Evans extol the virtues of diversity on the bench, Latino representation on the Circuit Court of Cook County remains at a dismal 7.5%,” she wrote in a press release.

Evans said he understood the concern about the lack of Hispanic judges elected and that the nominating committee strove for inclusion in the 30 finalists.

“The bar associations and the public should know that our compass is always pointed in the direction of diversity and excellence,” Evans said in a statement.

One of the losing Hispanic finalists, assistant state’s attorney Laura Ayala-Gonzalez, is one of three Hispanic women running for circuit court seats in March with the endorsement of the Cook County Democratic Party.

“There’s certainly some time to make history,” Morado said.

One-third of the new associate judges are people of color

Though the Circuit Court did not provide demographic statistics for the elected judges, a review of the candidates revealed at least five are people of color.

One new associate judge is attorney Rouhy J. Shalabi, a founding member and former president of the Arab-American Bar Association.

Four black judges were chosen: Fredrick Hayze Bates, John Abbrey Fairman, Celestia L. Mays and Levander Smith, Jr. Three are past presidents of the Cook County Bar Association, the country’s oldest association of African-American lawyers, President Jerrod Williams said.

“We are extremely proud of our members,” Williams said.

Smith serves on the board of directors of the association’s LGBTQ section and is a member of the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago.

Fairman, an attorney, was named the Executive Board Member of the Year by the National Black Prosecutors Association, of which he is a former president.

Bates, who was endorsed by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, faced controversy in 2016 when his ex-fiance declared publicly that he shouldn’t be a judge after he bit the engagement ring off her finger and hit her in an altercation. Bates was charged with felony assault, though the judge reduced it to a misdemeanor. The woman won a $10,000 civil suit against him, according to Fox 32 Chicago.

The number of black judges chosen was a major increase from 2018, when only one black candidate was selected out of 10 finalists.

Dartesia A. Pitts, then-president of the Cook County Bar Association, the country’s oldest association of African-American lawyers, called the 2018 result “shattering” for her members.

“Something like this can be disheartening to the practitioner, especially if you’re an African-American practitioner, you’re trying to figure out, why not us? Why are we not worthy?” she said.

Williams said he hoped that this year’s results wouldn’t be a one-time event.

“We are pleased that this list is more representative of the percentage of African Americans in Cook County,” he said.

Six of the new judges, including three of the black judges, are already serving on the bench in temporary circuit appointments. Levander Smith Jr. and Celestia L. Mays are also currently running for open circuit court seats with the Democratic Party’s endorsement. If they lose the election, they will remain at the associate level.

Circuit Judge James Shapiro said that, while imperfect, he believed the associate judge selection process produces better quality judges than general elections.

“I think this is the closest thing to merit selection that we’re going to get,” he said.

The new judges, along with all associate judges, face a yes/no retention vote by the circuit court judges in July 2023.

Here is the full list of associate judges chosen:

  • Amee Elizabeth Alonso
  • Marina E. Ammendola
  • Frank John Andreou
  • Fredrick Hayze Bates
  • John Abbrey Fairman
  • Michael Angelo Forti
  • Michael James Hogan, Jr.
  • Celestia Laurene Mays
  • Jennifer Joyce Payne
  • Diane Marie Pezanoski
  • Geri Pinzur Rosenberg
  • Rouhy J. Shalabi
  • John Anthony Simon
  • Levander Smith, Jr.
  • Daniel Owen Tiernan