Opinion: Four Cook County Judges you should watch out for
The politics of judicial retentions: Why you should look hard at all of the judges running for re-election, ignore the politicians and the legal bar associations and instead remember those names who surface during the year and vote against their retention. One of the judges I urge a vote against retention is Anna Demacopoulos who has one of the highest ruling reversals of any judge. But, you should support Judge Michael P. Toomin’s retention because of his courage in standing up to controversial Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her political pals.
By Ray Hanania
There are four Cook County Judges seeking retention who have the worst records when it comes to having their rulings reserved by the Appellate Court.
They are: Margaret Ann Brennan, Patrick J. Sherlock, Kenneth J. Wadas and Anna Helen Demacopoulos.
The Chicago Sun-Times published a column from InjusticeWatch, which notes, they “are the only judges seeking retention to each have more than a dozen decisions reversed by higher courts in the six years since they were last retained.” Click here to read the article.
Author John Seasly explains “A reversal means an appeals court decided a judge was wrong and overturned all or part of a ruling.” The average number of reversals for a judge is four, he writes.
Now, some people don’t think that is significant, but I do.
InjusticeWatch, by the way, doesn’t recommend for or against retention as they are non-political
Judges are really sensitive about elections. On one hand they have to remain “non-partisan” and be “fair,” which is something that is impossible to do in Cook County and in any election. In many cases, they get elected because they are backed by political Machines, candidates and are included on political palm cards.
Most of us don’t have any feelings about judges at all, until we come before judge for any of a million reasons involving the law, speeding tickets, and more. So, we just shrug our shoulders and skip them on the ballot, which is a real injustice if you ask me. There are more judges on a ballot than candidates for government office.
I have met some great judges. I have disagreed with some judges that I liked, too. But they are not like everyday candidates even though they are candidates on our election ballot.
Unlike political candidates for public office who need to receive 50 percent plus 1 vote or more to win and election and take office, Judges who are elected to the Cook County Circuit Court must stand for retention every six years. Retention is different from an election. Retention means a judge must receive at least 60% of the votes cast in their race to stay on the bench. That means it only takes 40 percent NO vote to remove them from the Bench. That’s not easy to do, but it should be done more often.
The retention voting process is complicated and favors the judges, regardless of their actions. Every judge running for retention must get 60 percent Yes Votes from all the votes cast in their favor.
Many voters vote No on all the judges not to hurt the judges but to help campaigns take out bad judges that have been targeted by groups angry with rulings.
For example, people who support controversial Cook County States Attorney Kim Foxx are campaigning hard to toss Judge Michael P. Toomin from the ballot. Why? They say he is not a good judge, but I think the truth is far more political. Click here for more information. The Cook County Democratic Organization, which is solidly behind Foxx, voted not to endorse Toomin for retention. The organization is headed by Foxx’s close political ally.
Toomin is being targeted because in August 2019, he appointed the special prosecutor who exposed Foxx’s pathetic political and racial decision to not prosecute Jussie Smollett, the actor who, on Jan. 29, 2019, allegedly faked up a homophobic and racist attack against himself to build up sympathy to improve Hollywood notoriety. Smollett’s hoax backfired when the two alleged racist and homophobic thugs turned out to be people he allegedly recruited to stage the assault.
Smollett was indicted on 16 counts before Foxx dropped all charges in March 2019.
Smollett is politically connected through his African American celebrity and to a former spokesperson for former First Lady Michelle Obama, who called Foxx’s office and urged leniency on Smollett’s behalf. The special prosecutor that Toomin appointed, former prosecutor Dan Webb, concluded Foxx engaged in “abuses of discretion” in her communications to the public. Basically that means she lied, and probably to protect Smollett for political and even possibly racial reasons.
Now, Foxx and her pals want Toomin off the bench and none of the major Bar Associations have the courage to speak out against that injustice. But, they are willing to stand with their pals and friends and colleagues who are judges to give them “High Ratings” that the judges then use to tout to the public and argue they deserve to be retained.
Well, I don’t listen to the Bar Associations. I know they are as political as Chicago Ward Organizations.
I also know many judges are even more political, like Demacopoulos.
Judges love to dish out decisions and rulings. Their rulings result in punishments and fines and their rulings stand until they are appealed and then reversed.
So, when a judge’s ruling is reversed, it suggests there is something wrong. And when a judge has the highest number of reversals that really suggests a problem,as it does with Judge Anna Demacopoulos.
When a judge makes a ruling, we can’t call her friends and pals and complain, the way she can through hired political guns like Hanah Jubeh who represents many of the judges and who was named in 2015 by Crains as one of the state’s 20 most powerful political influencers. That got her some business, I am sure. Jubeh is a nice person and I have no quarrel with her. She’s paid to do a job, just like all of us.
But I do have an issue with Demacopolous. And I think voters should have an issue with her, too. Having the highest number of rulings reversed of any judge IS an issue. And of all of the factors that exist to retain or not to retain a judge, that ranks as one of the most important in my mind.
InjusticeWatch, a non-political organization that I respect, concluded in an assessment, “Demacopoulos has had 14 decisions reversed by higher courts since 2014, among the most of any of the judges running for retention this year.”
Click here to read it for yourself.
Hanah Jubeh, spokeswoman for Committee for Retention of Judges in Cook County, responded, “Comparing the single number of reversals is not reflective of the quality of the judge. The average reversal rate pursuant to the 2018 annual report from the Illinois Supreme Court indicates that 22 percent of civil cases and 17 percent of criminal cases are reversed. The judges referenced in this story fall way below that number when you consider all cases on appeal. These four judges had 100 cases or more each before the Appellate Court based on their assignments. Some judges have zero cases appealed because of their given assignment. Unjustified scrutiny on reversals not only misinforms the voter, but more importantly discourages qualified judges from taking the hard assignments.”
For context, she adds, Judge Demacopoulos is at 11 percent and she has had the highest number of cases before the Appellate Court.
Of course, my opinion column certainly is not a courtroom, but like a judge’s decision, weighing all the facts, here is mine: I believe you should Vote No on Demacopoulos’ retention. We should hold judges up to a higher standard, a standard they frequently use to judge everyone else.
For more information, the Cook County Clerk lists all of the 103 judges running for retention. Click here to view that list.