A group of influential attorneys and progressive activists are encouraging voters to oppose the retention of judges Michael Toomin and Mauricio Araujo, a week after the Cook County Democratic Party voiced similar opposition.
The Judicial Accountability Political Action Committee, or JAPAC, announced its decision Tuesday “after a great deal of research, debate and consternation,” according to a press release.
“The Cook County Court System belongs to us, the people, and these two men do not represent anything that we stand for!” executive director Michilla Blaise wrote.
Investigations that expose, influence and inform. Emailed directly to you.
JAPAC is composed of attorneys, activists, community leaders and lobbyists “committed to remov[ing] bias from the bench,” according to their website. The board includes former alderman and judge Ray Figueroa, former state representative Clem Balanoff, plaintiff’s lawyer Jay Edelson and civil rights attorney Jennifer Bonjean, among others.
Last election cycle, in 2018, JAPAC launched a successful campaign against Matthew Coghlan, who became the first judge in 28 years to lose a retention race.
This year, the group’s board chose to target Toomin, the presiding judge of the juvenile justice division, and Araujo, currently on administrative duty awaiting a hearing on sexual harassment allegations, after “four very contentious meetings,” board president Brendan Shiller said.
Both Toomin and Araujo were also dropped last week by the Cook County Democratic Party, which has traditionally endorsed every judge running for retention. Toomin has alleged the decision was politically motivated retribution for his criticism of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s handling of the high-profile Jussie Smollett case.
Hanah Jubeh, a spokeswoman for Toomin and the other retention judges disputed JAPAC’s characterization of Toomin’s record and said the group “continues to misrepresent the facts.”
“Not surprising from an organization that misconstrues and misrepresents facts to serve their own agenda,” Jubeh said in an email. “The voters will see through their deception.”
All of the bar associations that have released their evaluations of judicial candidates so far this election cycle have found Toomin qualified for retention, as they have in his previous retention races.
Araujo did not respond to a request for comment. He is not participating in the retention class that Jubeh represents and did not participate in the bar association evaluations.
In deciding on which judges to oppose, JAPAC collected anonymous surveys from about 85 attorneys across Cook County asking about their personal experience with judges, board member Dan Schneider said. About 10 judges emerged as possible targets and a committee of attorneys investigated their histories, criminal decisions, demeanor and professionalism on the bench.
Early on, some members wanted to only oppose Araujo or not target any judge this cycle, Shiller said.
The choice of Toomin came down to his oversight of Cook County juvenile justice and his opposition to multiple reform efforts, Shiller said. Toomin has declined to participate in a state program that offers rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration for juveniles and successfully overruled a county ordinance that would have banned the detention of children under 13, JAPAC said. Jubeh noted that the state program, called Redeploy Illinois, “refused to provide and implement” the plan that Toomin had proposed.
The group also pointed to Toomin’s earlier tenure in criminal court, where “he used his station to protect the culture of racism and police misconduct that permeates it,” Blaise wrote. Nine of Toomin’s convictions were overturned by appellate courts, JAPAC noted. Jubeh said that Toomin had hundreds of cases affirmed by the appellate court.
“In the era of 2020, we’re either all for mass social reform and change or we’re not,” Shiller said. “This is the biggest way we could have an impact.”
Araujo, who has been accused of sexual harassment by three women and faces a disciplinary hearing next week, was a much less contentious choice, Shiller said.
“We just didn’t think we could be credible if we didn’t add him,” Shiller said.
Coghlan’s loss in 2018 raised the stakes for judges up for retention. Many judges aggressively lobbied JAPAC members not to target them this year, Shiller said.
Shiller said he expects the group’s campaign to play out differently this year, with the coronavirus pandemic preventing in-person voter engagement efforts and the shift in the Democratic Party’s typical unanimous support.
“Everything is up in the air this election,” Shiller said.