Illinois Supreme Court fills vacancy of judge who locked grandniece in holding cell

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David L. Kelly unsuccessfully ran for a 5th Subcircuit seat in 2018.

The Illinois Supreme Court has appointed a former prosecutor to fill the vacant 5th Subcircuit seat in Cook County.

Attorney David L. Kelly will fill the seat left vacant after Judge Jackie Portman-Brown lost her retention election bid in November, the state supreme court announced Tuesday. The seat has been vacant since her term ended in December.

Kelly ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the 5th Subcircuit in 2018.

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Kelly has worked as a solo practitioner in Bronzeville specializing in criminal defense and real estate law. He also spent about six years as an assistant state’s attorney in Cook County. He was found to be “qualified” by the Chicago Council of Lawyers, the Chicago Bar Association, and the Illinois State Bar Association, according to our 2018 judicial voting guide.

His term will span from July 9 until Dec. 5, 2022. If he wants to retain the seat, he’ll have to run for it in the primary election in 2022.  Cook County Circuit Court judges are elected to six-year terms. At the end of six years, they have to run to keep their seat for another term. Judges running for retention don’t face a challenger. Instead, voters have the option to vote “yes” to keep the judge or “no” to remove them.

Judges up for retention need 60% yes votes to keep their seat. Portman-Brown, whose vacancy Kelly will fill, was about 12,000 votes short of that threshold. Portman-Brown is one of only two judges who have lost retention races since 1990, according to previous reporting by Injustice Watch.

Portman-Brown became a judge in 2008 and for years headed the experimental HOPE court, which was supposed to help keep defendants who struggled to comply with probation out of prison. In 2018, funding for the program was cut following internal surveys and outside reviews that found it rife with issues, including issues stemming from her leadership. A review of the program by research and advocacy organization Chicago Appleseed Center for Fair Courts found attorneys, probation officers, and their supervisors characterized Portman-Brown as a bully who would punish alleged offenders to spite attorneys she disagreed with.

In February 2020, Portman-Brown was placed on administrative duty — often referred to as  “judge jail” by those on the bench — after a video surfaced of her locking her grandniece in a holding cell for several minutes.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Kelly would face a retention election to keep his seat. He would have to first defend the seat from any challengers, if he chooses, in the 2022 primary election, before he would have to run for retention every six years. We regret the error.