Two Cook County judges on verge of losing seats as vote counting continues

Election sign urging "Yes" vote on all retention judges

Update (Nov. 17, 12:20 p.m.): As vote counting continued on Tuesday, Judge Jackie Portman-Brown’s chances of reaching the 60% “yes” vote threshold needed to retain her seat was mathematically impossible, according to an Injustice Watch analysis of election results. Judge John Mahoney was hanging on to his retention bid by 282 votes with about 16,000 provisional and mail-in ballots left to count in the City of Chicago. Officials have until the end of the day Tuesday to finish their count, said Matt Dietrich, a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Updated (Nov. 13, 12:45 p.m.) with new vote tallies from the Cook County Clerk.

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With fewer than 40,000 ballots left to count, unofficial results show two Cook County judges are close to losing their seats.

Judges seeking retention in Cook County need to secure 60% “yes” votes to stay on the bench. As of Friday morning, Judge Jackie Portman-Brown was at 59.3% “yes” votes, about 11,800 votes shy of the threshold. Meanwhile, Judge John Mahoney is holding on to his seat by 0.05%, or about 800 votes.

Election officials have already counted more than 2.2 million ballots in Chicago and suburban Cook County. More than half of the uncounted votes hail from the suburbs, where Mahoney and Portman-Brown have fared better than in the city. But mail-in ballots have dropped both judges’ win share as they ended Election Day with about 62% “yes” votes. State law requires officials to count all ballots postmarked by Election Day through Nov. 17.

In February, Chief Judge of Cook County Circuit Court Timothy Evans placed Portman-Brown on administrative duty — also known as “judge jail” — after a video showed her locking up a young relative in the holding cell behind her courtroom. A spokesperson for Portman-Brown told Injustice Watch in September that “the media’s perception of the incident with the grandniece was not a true representation of the matter in question.”

Portman-Brown also faced criticism during her time overseeing the HOPE court, a probation program that was shut down in 2018. Funding for the HOPE court was cut off after several outside reviews found the program had been plagued with persistent problems related to Portman-Brown’s leadership. In a 2016 review of the court conducted by the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, an advocacy group, court staff portrayed Portman-Brown as a vindictive bully who would at times punish offenders to spite attorneys with whom she argued.

Judges Jackie Portman-Brown (left) and John Mahoney.

Ahead of this month’s general election, the Illinois State Bar Association also said many attorneys raised concerns about Portman-Brown’s judgment and temperament. Some of the attorneys alleged she verbally abused courtroom staff and showed unorthodox behavior on the bench, including singing and ringing a cowbell to celebrate when defendants pay off their restitution in full.

Mahoney was elected in 2014. He currently serves in the fifth municipal district in Bridgeview, a southwestern suburb of Chicago. In handing down its negative rating of Mahoney, the state bar association said it received concerns from attorneys over his “arrogance and a lack of sensitivity to diversity issues.”

The Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Council of Lawyers both rated Mahoney and Portman-Brown as qualified.

Matt Dietrich, a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said in an email Thursday that any candidate in the state who loses by 5% or less can contest an election’s outcome.

If Portman-Brown or Mahoney fall below the 60% “yes” vote threshold, they would join Mauricio Araujo as judges likely to lose retention. Araujo had garnered 48.2% of the vote as of Thursday. But he already resigned, in October, after a disciplinary panel substantiated allegations of sexual harassment made against him by a court reporter, an assistant state’s attorney, and a Chicago cop.

Araujo is one of two judges vying for retention who failed to get an endorsement from the Cook County Democratic Party. The other was Judge Michael Toomin, who had 61.6% “yes” votes as of Thursday. Judge Patricia Martin, who had 62.3%, had already announced earlier this year that she plans to retire in December.