Election day 2020: Cook County judicial races to watch

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On an election day unlike any other, 60 Cook County judges are hoping voters will retain them for another term on the bench. (Two others are on the ballot but are not actively seeking retention — more on them later.)

Injustice Watch has been covering these judicial races and we’ll be watching closely as the results come in. It’s quite possible we won’t have final results on election night, as officials tally more than 1.5 million mail-in and early voting ballots from Chicago and suburban Cook County. We’ll keep you informed on our Facebook and Twitter about what we know and also what we don’t know, as it may be days or even weeks before all the votes are counted.

Last election, in 2018, was the first time in 28 years that a Cook County judge did not win retention. But Matthew Coghlan’s loss, following the withdrawal of Democratic Party support and political opposition from a group of progressive attorneys and advocates, changed the dynamic of judicial retention races. The Cook County Democratic Party now evaluates retention judges, political party donations are not guaranteed, and voters have more information at their fingertips than ever before.

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Here are the retention races to keep an eye on as the votes come in:

Judge Michael Toomin

Michael Toomin

Michael P. Toomin

Toomin, who presides over the juvenile justice division of the Cook County Circuit Court, faces the most opposition of any judge this cycle. A progressive political group, the Judicial Accountability Political Action Committee, is urging voters not to retain him, and he is the only judge seeking retention that the Cook County Democratic Party did not endorse (until 2018 they had historically endorsed every judge seeking retention).

Toomin has at least one major supporter in Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was the featured guest at a virtual fundraiser for him last month. He also has financial ties to indicted Ald. Edward M. Burke. Critics point to his approach to juvenile justice, especially during the pandemic, which they say has been overly punitive. Supporters argue that his involvement in the Kim Foxx-Jussie Smollett saga has Democrats playing politics.

Judge Jackie Portman-Brown

In February, criminal division judge Portman-Brown was placed on administrative duty, coined “judge jail,” after a video showed her locking a child in the holding cell behind her courtroom. She has also faced criticism for her leadership of a now-shuttered probation program and for using vulgar language while on the bench.

Judge Kenneth J. Wadas 

Sun-Times File

Kenneth Wadas

Wadas, who also serves in the criminal division, has had his decisions reversed nearly twice as many times as the other five criminal division judges seeking retention combined. He was one of four judges whose decisions have been collectively overturned 98 times in the past 6 years. The Chicago Sun-Times editorial board urged voters to consider Wadas’ record of reversals and issuing excessive sentences — but stopped short of explicitly recommending a “no” vote.

Judge Megan Goldish

Goldish, who serves in the domestic violence division, allegedly helped convict a Chicago teen when she was a prosecutor nearly two decades ago based on “false and coerced witness statements,” according to an ongoing civil lawsuit. The man was exonerated in 2017, after prosecutors agreed that a key witness statement should not have been admitted, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Goldish has denied wrongdoing.

Judge Mauricio Araujo

Judge Mauricio Araujo

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Mauricio Araujo

Judge Mauricio Araujo, who had been on administrative duty since 2018, resigned after a disciplinary hearing found “clear and convincing evidence” that he engaged in a pattern of inappropriate and harassing behavior toward women. Though his resignation took effect in early October, his name remains on the ballot.

Judge Patricia Martin

Judge Patricia Martin, the presiding judge of the child protection division, plans to retire before the start of the new term in December, though her name appears on the ballot. She did not participate in bar evaluations.

Two contested elections for open seats

In heavily Democratic Cook County, few judges run as Republicans. But there are two contested vacancies in north-suburban judicial districts. In the 12th subcircuit, Republican Frank DiFranco is challenging Democrat Patricia Fallon, who currently holds the seat by appointment. Injustice Watch reported in the spring that DiFranco was accused in a pending federal civil lawsuit of working with disgraced former Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara to frame a man for a double murder. DiFranco denies the allegations.

The 13th subcircuit features a rematch between McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney Susanne Groebner and attorney Gary Seyring. Groebner, who is running as a Democrat this year, lost to Seyring in the 2018 Republican primary for a different 13th subcircuit vacancy. This is Seyring’s fourth run for judge.

The winners of the rest of the Democratic primary races from March are running unopposed in the general election, and their success is guaranteed. These include Illinois Supreme Court Justice P. Scott Neville Jr., who will become the second elected Black Supreme Court justice in state history, and Jill Rose Quinn, who will be the state’s first openly transgender judge.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated candidate Patricia Fallon’s last name. We regret the error.