Of the 25 candidates running in the Nov. 2 general election to fill Cook County Circuit Court and First District Appellate Court vacancies, all but two have a pretty good idea of the outcome because they're running unopposed.
That practically guarantees their election to the bench, even for those candidates who area bar associations found "not recommended" or "not qualified."
The Illinois State Bar Association, the state's largest, rated Sharon Dolores Oden-Johnson and Bonita Coleman-John not qualified to serve as a Cook County Circuit Court judge. The Chicago Bar Association concurred, and also declined to recommend Sandra G. Ramos and Steven James "Steve" Bernstein. Additionally, both bar associations declined to recommend current Circuit Court Judge Aurelia Marie Pucinski for the appellate court.
In addition to these candidates seeking election to judgeships, voters will see a long list of circuit court judges seeking retention in Tuesday's election. The Suburban Bar Coalition issued its own list of ratings for those judges. Those recommendations, along with ratings on retention from other bar associations, are available at dailyherald.com.
Those involved in the lengthy judicial screening process are frustrated that individuals rated unfavorably still ascend to the bench.
"If the candidate runs unopposed, we have no control," said Jeannine Cordero, who chairs the Chicago Bar Associations Judicial Evaluation Committee. "The best we can do is to educate the public and let them know (the candidate's) qualifications."
"We recognize that sometimes the system just doesn't work. But I think it's also important that the system keep the light shining on them through court watching in general," said Malcolm Rich, executive director of the nonpartisan Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, a social reform group that manages VoteForJudges.com, which posts judicial recommendations.
While the CBA praised Pucinski's "diligence and work ethic," the group said she "lacks the depth and breadth of legal knowledge to serve as an Appellate Court Justice." The Chicago Council of Lawyers expressed concern she lacked appellate court experience as a lawyer.
Pucinski disagreed with their findings.
"I'm comfortable that I bring the experience I need to the appellate court," said Pucinski, who has presided over felony, misdemeanor, domestic relations and civil cases in the six years since she was elected to the bench.
"I am absolutely convinced that I can do this job," she said. "I will demonstrate that I am hardworking, efficient, well-reasoned and have the experience to make the citizens of this community proud that I'm there."
In the single contested race for Cook County circuit judge, both Republican candidate Maureen Masterson Pulia and Democrat Daniel J. Gallagher have been rated "qualified" by bar associations.
Pulia, an arbiter with the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission is a former corporate lawyer who has practiced at the appellate level. She says her experience, including seven years as an arbiter, make her well-suited for the bench.
Attempts to contact Gallagher, a Cook County assistant public defender, were not successful.