Illinois Supreme Court candidate Shelly Harris has contended that the accusation that he acted unethically on behalf of a nephew is a false charge by a former colleague who supports an opponent in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
In talking about the case with lawyers and others, Harris has said the allegations by now-retired Appellate Judge Mary Anne Mason that he tried to interfere in the appellate court’s consideration of his nephew’s appeal are not true, uncorroborated and politically motivated, Injustice Watch has learned.
Harris has failed to respond to several requests for comment.
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Mason, who retired in July 2019, told Injustice Watch last week that Harris attempted to discuss his nephew’s pending case in a March 29, 2016 meeting in her chambers. She said she cut Harris off telling him that his interference was “unethical,” and that he responded by telling her he respected her and then left her chambers.
Within a day of that meeting, Mason had asked that the case be reassigned to other judges, she said this weekend. Court records show that a new panel had begun considering the case in early April 2016.
Following the meeting, Mason also wrote a memo that she put in a file but kept private for more than three years. After Harris announced his candidacy for the state Supreme Court last year, Mason then hand-delivered a copy of the memo to both the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association, she told Injustice Watch.
Mason on Saturday rejected Harris’s claim that her description of the meeting was false. She noted that she promptly arranged for the case to be reassigned, years before Shelly Harris was running for the Supreme Court.
“There’s no reason for the case to be reassigned, unless the presiding judge says it has to be reassigned. I said it had to be reassigned,” she said.
Mason donated $1,000 to Appellate Judge Margaret McBride, who is running against Harris, in December 2019. She strongly denied that her support of McBride had anything to do with the allegation against Harris.
“I would have no reason to make it up,” she said. “I would be risking my law license if I was doing this to help another candidate.”
At issue before the appellate court was an appeal by Harris’s nephew, Jason Harris, who wanted the court to impose sanctions against an opposing lawyer. The lawyer had represented a woman who had claimed Jason Harris was stalking her and had tried to get an order of protection against him.
In his denial of wrongdoing, sources told Injustice Watch, Harris noted that other judges on the appellate court who heard the case after it was reassigned have said that Harris did not try to discuss the case with them.
Those judges failed to respond to requests for comment by Injustice Watch.
But Mason said on Saturday that the fact that Harris did not discuss the case with the judges on the new panel after she told him such discussion was unethical proved nothing. “He would have to be absolutely brain dead to try to do that once I called him out on it,” Mason said.
It is unclear what, if anything, the bar associations did with Mason’s accusation. None of the three bar associations that detail their reasons for their ratings — the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association and the Chicago Council of Lawyers — mentioned Mason’s allegation in their ratings.
Mason said last week that the matter has also been reported to the Judicial Inquiry Board, which investigates complaints of judicial misconduct and prosecutes discipline ranging from private reprimands to removal from office to the Illinois Courts Commission. The Inquiry Board complaints are treated as private unless and until the board recommends public discipline.