Cook County judge, criticized for ‘insensitive, improper’ racial comments, is dumped from bench

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All but one of 138 associate Cook County judges have won new four-year terms, after a secret vote in which only the county’s circuit judges can vote.

The only one dumped from the bench: Richard Schwind, an associate judge since 2012 who’d been criticized for racially insensitive comments.

Schwind, who didn’t return calls seeking comment, was reassigned last year after WBEZ reported he told an African American defendant, charged with assaulting a white man who used a racial slur against him, “You were never a slave, but you take offense to it.”

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Associate Judge Richard Denis Schwind | Brian Jackson – Sun-Times

The Chicago Bar Association had urged the county’s circuit judges not to reappoint Schwind and one other associate judge, Luciano Panici, saying they were the only two judges who sought the group’s approval who weren’t qualified. Before the secret balloting, the bar group had said Schwind’s “statements to minority litigants appearing before him are insensitive, improper and evidence bias.”

Chief Judge Timothy Evans sent the results to the county’s circuit judges on Wednesday. Christopher Bonjean, a spokesman for the Illinois court administration, confirmed the selections.

Associate judges who seek reappointment seldom fail to get it. They need a favorable vote of at least 60 percent to win a new term.

The percentage of the vote that each judge got is secret, according to Bonjean, under an Illinois Supreme Court rule.

Several circuit judges complained before the vote that they had little information about the performance of their colleagues beyond the bar association ratings.

The bar group had said Panici, the other associate judge it found to be unqualified, “exhibits a casual attitude regarding whether the state has met the burden of proof” and expressed a belief that nearly all of the defendants who appear before him are guilty.

The other judges getting new terms include several whose decisions had brought rebukes from the court system.

Among them: Judge Angela Petrone. Her rulings had been reversed by the Illinois Appellate Court twice for denying new hearings to crime suspects even when the Cook County state’s attorney’s office wasn’t opposing efforts to overturn their convictions amid new evidence that raised doubt about their guilt.

Also reappointed was Judge Stanley Sacks, whose conduct on and off the bench had been criticized. Sacks once swore at a police officer who was on trial, which Evans called “an egregious lapse” at the time.

Sacks’ rulings have repeatedly been reversed on appeal, Injustice Watch and the Chicago Sun-Times have reported, in some instances for summarily dismissing the claims of prisoners that they had been wrongly convicted. In one case, Sacks rejected the claim of two men that they’d been tortured into falsely confessing to a double murder — and the men ultimately were exonerated after the appellate court reversed him and, finding he should no longer hear the case, sent their cases to a different judge.

As the voting took place starting late last month, Panici wrote the circuit judges that his bar association rating was “clearly erroneous.”

The circuit judges also heard from one of their colleagues, Judge Stephen A. Kozicki, who wrote that Schwind had an “excellent reputation for honesty and fairness,” recently served as a lector at Sunday Mass and was an excellent father and husband.

Partly in response to these letters, Circuit Judge Robert Balanoff had urged his fellow voters to “Vote NO on Schwind and Panici,” based on their negative bar association evaluations.

“If they are retained, how would we explain that 60% of us thought this behavior was acceptable for a judge in Cook County?” Balanoff wrote.

On Wednesday, Balanoff said he’s glad his colleagues followed the bar group’s recommendation in deciding Schwind should go but disagreed on the reappointment of Panici.

“We all have to decide on what type of judiciary we want,” Balanoff said.