Appellate candidate’s heated letter causes stir among party members, fellow judges

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Cook County Circuit Judge Carolyn Gallagher is competing for a seat on the Illinois appellate court, but in the lead up to the race last summer she launched a different sort of campaign against well-connected political consultant Mary Kay Dawson.

Injustice Watch has obtained a three-page letter that Gallagher, one of Dawson’s former clients, sent to various Cook County judges and Democratic Party leaders in August. Gallagher’s letter, in which she threatened to sue Dawson, accused the consultant of misrepresenting her ties to the party and of career sabotage.

Judge Carolyn Gallagher's letter to Mary Kay Dawson

John Seasly

Judge Carolyn Gallagher widely distributed this letter critical of consultant Mary Kay Dawson, who disputes many of its allegations.

“For several years, you have engaged in malicious, unethical, aggressive and deliberate efforts to slander me, mislead me, defraud me, dismantle my reputation, and sabotage my career,” the letter began.

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Dawson, who said she’s considering taking legal action of her own against Gallagher, disputes many of the allegations and expressed disbelief at its circulation.

“Basically I was kind of shocked, I did not know what provoked it,” Dawson said.

Judges and Democratic Party insiders members who received the letter said they believed its wide distribution reflected poor judgment on Gallagher’s part. One judge said the tone was “injudicious.”

“The letter is very threatening. You either do it [sue] or you don’t,” the judge said, speaking anonymously to discuss the letter. As of January 21, Gallagher has not filed a lawsuit against Dawson.

Dawson said in an interview that she has represented more than 30 judicial candidates in her 28 years as a consultant. In 2018, she was paid $10,000 over four months, state records show, to represent the entire slate of Cook County judges seeking retention.

She also participates in closed-door meetings of the Democratic Party, serving as a proxy voter for some committeemen or tabulating vote totals.

Judge Carolyn J. Gallagher

Judge Carolyn J. Gallagher

Gallagher faced questions about the letter in August when she appeared before the Democratic Party seeking its endorsement. State Sen. Robert Martwick wondered about the need to publicize a private dispute, and asked her whether it reflected judicial temperament, according to Gallagher and another person who attended the event. Gallagher responded that she felt her reputation was being attacked and that she needed to respond.

The party bosses ultimately chose to endorse Michael B. Hyman, the judge who is currently appointed to the appellate seat, over Gallagher and Sandra Ramos, another candidate for the seat.

Despite criticism of her decision to send the letter, Gallagher said she wasn’t concerned about the optics. She said she wanted to highlight that the party “might have exposure for [Dawson’s] actions.”

“The wrongdoing that she was engaged in was in the name of the party,” Gallagher said in an interview.

Gallagher’s letter focuses both on her brief but tumultuous professional relationship with Dawson — Gallagher retained Dawson as a consultant from April to July 2015, when she was running for circuit court judge — and on the consultant’s role in local judicial politics.

Gallagher accused Dawson of representing herself as the “judicial consultant for the Democratic Party,” of spreading lies about her finances and divorce, and of offering to help Gallagher run against a slated candidate who was her client.

According to their contract, which was reviewed by Injustice Watch, if Gallagher did not become the party’s slated candidate, Dawson would immediately terminate their agreement, a clause Dawson said was standard in her contracts.

“I put that clause in there because the slated, endorsed candidates are my focus,” Dawson said.

Dawson went on to represent slated candidate Sean Chaudhuri, whom Gallagher defeated in the 2016 primary with 34 percent of the vote.

Dawson said she has never represented herself as the party’s consultant, and spokesperson Delmarie Cobb said the party has never had such a consultant. Dawson denied discussing Gallagher’s divorce or ever offering to help a candidate run against another client. She said she generally discusses candidates’ finances.

“When you’re running races against people, it’s normal to see what they’re spending and where they’re spending. In that sense we discuss everybody’s finances,” Dawson said.

Committeeman Sean Tenner, himself a political consultant, said that, as a candidate, Gallagher would be better off focusing on voters than on the inside baseball of campaigning.

“I think things like this are not the priority for voters looking to decide who to vote for in the rapidly approaching 2020 election,” he said.