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Judicial Election Guide: Cook County Judges To Retain, And Judges To Send Home

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It's Election Day. You head into the voting booth, ballot in hand, and get to work. Senator and Governor, you know all about. You've got an opinion on the recall amendment. Maybe you're a little hazier on the Water Commissioners or the County Treasurer, but all in all, you're feeling like a pretty informed voter.

Then you flip the ballot over, and it's just judges. Dozens and dozens of judges. And all it says is "Yes" or "No."

What do you do? Leave them blank? Just vote "yes" for all of them? Vote them all out?

Most readers probably don't know much about these obscure judicial posts. To be honest, we didn't either. So we consulted the experts.

Turns out, we're being asked if we want to retain these judges or not. It takes 60 percent of the vote for a judge to keep her seat. Still, as WBEZ reports, only 14 judges have not been retained in Cook County in the last 40 years.

But what about this year? Well, most independent observers give the nod to the vast majority of judges. A few, though, seem like they really ought to get the boot.

We've compiled the recommendations from several sources: the Chicago Sun-Times; the Chicago Tribune; the Chicago Bar Association; the Judicial Performance Commission of Cook County; and the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening (which gathers the recommendations of 11 other lawyers' groups).

Here are the most notorious judges from their "do not retain" lists:

Dorothy F. Jones
"No" from Sun-Times, Tribune, CBA, JPC, 11 out of 11 Bar associations

By far the most unanimously rejected of the judicial nominees, Jones refuses to be evaluated by the groups that make these recommendations. But according to the Tribune, lawyers "have found that Jones has very poor legal skills and acts unprofessionally on the bench." Every group asked about her says she shouldn't be retained -- no other judge gets nearly such a bad reputation.

Susan Jeanine McDunn
"No" from Sun-Times, Tribune, CBA, JPC, 7 out of 11 Bar associations

McDunn made an infamously poor ruling several years ago, trying to sidetrack adoptions by lesbian parents despite their clear legal rights. The Chicago Council of Lawyers called her ruling in the case "unacceptable" and "well beyond the pale of appropriate judicial conduct." In general, she is reportedly inappropriate in the courtroom and lacking in legal knowledge. She is also vocal about her " evangelical, Catholic Christian" faith, has pushed for abstinence-only education and told the Tribune she is a "passionate advocate" for "wholesome" behavior.

James J. Ryan
"No" from Sun-Times, Tribune, CBA, 4 out of 11 Bar associations

"Judge Ryan does not possess the requisite legal knowledge, ability, and temperament to serve as a Circuit Court Judge," writes the Chicago Bar Association, in no uncertain terms. Other Bar groups including the Chicago Council of Lawyers, the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), and the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago felt similarly about Judge Ryan, as did both the papers.

Patrick T. Murphy
"No" from 5 out of 11 Bar associations

The Judicial Performance Commission recommended Murphy, but with reservations. "Judge Murphy can be, at times, intemperate and inconsistent in his rulings," the Commission writes. Five groups, including the ISBA and the Women's Bar Association, found those reservations too great to overcome.

William O'Neal
"No from Tribune, CBA, 2 out of 11 Bar associations

O'Neal is known for grandstanding in the courtroom, and according to the Tribune, "many lawyers think he doesn't always follow the law." That's disconcerting for a judge. Also, he ducked the Chicago Bar Association evaluation; for a judge to refuse to participate in such evaluations is rare, and usually a bad sign. The Chicago Council of Lawyers and the ISBA also weren't pleased.

Jeffrey Lawrence
"No" from JPC, 3 out of 11 Bar associations

The Judicial Performance Commission "notes a serious issue of punctuality that has been consistent throughout his eighteen years on the bench. The Commission also notes a number of respondents who complain that he is not always prepared. Interviewees indicate Judge Lawrence often takes the bench well after the scheduled start time and sometimes does not appear prepared for court when he arrives." An inability to be on time or do one's homework is enough to flunk a high-schooler; why not a judge?

All other judges on the ballot were unanimously endorsed, with a handful of exceptions who had a single Bar group raising an objection. So keep these names in mind when you get to that dizzying list on the back of the ballot.