The Chicago Sun-Times co-published this article.
One of the most controversial Cook County Circuit Court criminal division judges, Nicholas Ford, retired last month, court officials confirmed Friday.
The retirement of Ford, who first was appointed to the bench in 1997, took effect April 12, a spokesman for the Illinois Supreme Court confirmed Friday. The retirement had not been announced either by the Circuit Court or Supreme Court; Injustice Watch learned of the retirement following publication Friday of an article about a case over which Ford had presided.
Injustice Watch previously found that in his years on the bench, Ford, a former assistant Cook County State’s Attorney, had been reversed in more than a dozen cases, repeatedly for failing to credit defense issues, and had been involved in several controversial actions. But he continued to win retention elections to the bench, most recently in 2016.
In 2017, a top assistant to Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx engaged in a heated exchange in open court over Ford’s order sending a pregnant woman to jail without bail for more than a month on a nonviolent crime.
In 2013, an Illinois appellate panel reversed Ford’s decision to reject a post-conviction petition by a defendant, Anthony Jakes, who contended that he had been tortured into falsely confessing by two officers under the command of now-disgraced Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. Ford dismissed the petition for lack of evidence, the court found, after he had refused to grant Jakes discovery to obtain evidence that the detectives had been accused of such torture in other cases.
In one case, a decision by Ford to reject a post-conviction petition without a hearing was reassigned to another judge, after evidence emerged that the judge had been involved in prosecuting the case before he joined the bench.
In 2011, an Illinois appellate panel found that Ford abused his discretion by challenging a psychiatrist’s testimony regarding a murder suspect’s sanity, writing that Ford had abandoned his “role as a neutral and impartial arbiter of fact by adopting a prosecutorial role,” exhibiting a “disregard and unfavorable bias toward the expert’s testimony,” that included “constantly interrupted the expert, contradicting or questioning many of his answers.”
In 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, acting at the direction of the Illinois Supreme Court, reversed its earlier decision and reversed a murder conviction of a suspect that was based largely on eyewitness identification. Ford had refused to permit the defense to call an expert on mistaken identification to the witness stand, stating he believed psychologists studied eyewitness identification “so as to increase their degree of remuneration,” adding, “That’s a way of saying I think they’re in it for the money.” The appellate court found that denying that testimony was an abuse of discretion.
Ford twice dismissed charges against a Park Ridge police officer who was accused of chasing down and beating two juveniles who had shot a projectile into his car. The officer was represented by an attorney who was the former law partner of Ford’s wife.
Ford first threw out charges against the officer based on his finding of improper prosecutorial delay. When the appellate court reversed that ruling, Ford presided over a 2016 non-jury trial at which he found the youth not credible.
The city paid one of the teenagers $185,000 to settle a civil suit over the incident.