Illinois Appellate Court Judge Sheldon Harris announces retirement, creating vacancy for June primary

Appellate Judge Sheldon A. Harris

Committee to Elect Shelly A. Harris

An allegation that Appellate Judge Sheldon Harris tried to interfere in his nephew’s appeal remained private for years. In March 2022, Harris announced plans to retire.

Update (Fri., May 13): A spokesperson for the Illinois Supreme Court said Harris moved his retirement date up to July 5. That means he will likely avoid a public hearing about the misconduct allegations against him.

Illinois Appellate Court Judge Sheldon Harris is retiring from the court in December, opening up a new vacancy that will be filled in the June 28 primary election. The vacancy was confirmed Tuesday by a spokesperson for the Illinois Supreme Court.

When reached by phone Tuesday, Harris said he informed the Illinois Supreme Court of his retirement Friday but refused to answer other questions before hanging up on a reporter.

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Harris ran for an open seat on the state supreme court in 2020, pouring more than $2 million of his own fortune into the campaign. But he lost in the primary to sitting state Supreme Court Judge P. Scott Neville Jr.

Days before that election, Injustice Watch reported that a retired appellate judge, Judge Mary Anne Mason, had accused Harris of trying to interfere in a pending case involving his nephew in 2016. Mason, who retired in 2019, alleged that Harris had brought up the case during a meeting in her chambers, and that she cut him off and disqualified herself from the case. Illinois’ judicial code of ethics prohibits judges from using their prestige to advance the interests of others.

Harris did not respond to Injustice Watch in 2020 but told other attorneys at the time that the accusations were unfounded and politically motivated.

Mason said the incident had been reported to the state’s Judicial Inquiry Board, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct. The board doesn’t comment on pending cases or cases in which it doesn’t file a formal complaint accusing a judge of misconduct and has not publicly acknowledged the complaint against Harris.

Mason also told Injustice Watch in 2020 that she had shared a memo outlining the incident with the bar associations that rate candidates for judgeships. None of the bar associations made the allegations public in their ratings of Harris for the 2020 race. Mason could not be reached before press time.

Harris’ retirement opens up a second vacancy on the Illinois Appellate Court for the 1st District, which encompasses Cook County. The announcement’s timing means that candidates who want to run for the vacancy will have until April 4 to file their petitions with the Illinois State Board of Elections. Candidates for the seat have to collect at least 3,367 signatures of registered voters to make it on the ballot.

The Cook County Democratic Party selected Circuit Court Judge John Ehrlich as their alternate pick for the appellate court at their December slating in the event that a second vacancy opened before the election. Ehrlich confirmed to Injustice Watch on Tuesday that he plans to run for Harris’ seat.

Max Lubbers contributed reporting.