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Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
Office sought: Cook County Circuit Court (Kinnaird vacancy)
Family: Married 18 years to Sarah Cunningham( also an attorney) 3 Children Claire 14 Freshman at Mother McAuley High School Patrick 12 Seventh Grader Saint John Fisher Matthew 7 Second Grader Saint John Fisher
Occupation: I manage a solo practitioner law practice. My practice focuses on criminal law, civil law, municipal law, domestic relations and probate. My largest account is the Village of Oak Lawn, where I am the Village Prosecutor.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in History, Eastern Illinois University, 1988 Juris Doctor, The John Marshall Law School, 1992
Civic involvement: Former President, Southwest Bar Association 2009 Former Vice President, Southwest Bar Association 2008 Former Treasurer, Southwest Bar Association 2007 Former Secretary, Southwest Bar Association 2006 Member of the Judicial Evaluation Committee, Southwest Bar Association Member of the Judicial Evaluation Committee, Suburban Bar Coalition Former Chairperson of the In Court Bar Referral Program Current Chairperson of the Southwest Bar Association Scholarship Committee Participant in Bridgeview Pro Bono Lawyer Program Member of my parish, St. John Fisher Church Member of the church's men's club, the Holy Name Society Member of the father's club at my daughter's school, the Mother McAuley Father's Club Little League Coach
Elected offices held: I do not hold an elective office but I do hold an appointed office. Since 2007 I have been the Oak Lawn Village Prosecutor.
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No
Key Issue 1
Our courts are overflowing with non-violent offender drug possession cases. I would like to see more resources and creative handling of these cases in order to alleviate the courts and get the offenders the help and resources they need. Specifically, I think a drug diversion court in Cook County should seriously be considered. Furthermore, this gives the courts more time to focus on more violent crimes and handle those cases, and their victims, with greater efficiency.
Key Issue 2
In terms of civil litigation, the discovery that is conducted under the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure can be excessive. Without question, litigants should be able to depose witnesses and obtain documents when preparing their cases. However, there are cases where lawyers spend hours of time and thousands of dollars obtaining information, and then use very little of it or none at all in the presentation of their case. Indeed, there are instances where it is abusive. I think the courts should be able to interject in cases where lawyers are using the discovery process to harass litigants.
Key Issue 3
As a solo practitioner, I think the Illinois courts should embrace an electronic filing system similar to the federal courts. This would be a significant time and money saver to the solo practitioner who has to do his or her own filing, often taking up a significant amount of the day. As a judge,
I would support such a system and would be willing to work towards getting this done.
Do you favor the appointment of judges or do you prefer the election process' Please explain your answer.
Both systems of selecting judges have their benefits, but I prefer a revised appointment process for selecting judges over the election process.
A majority of the states select judges by election. Indeed, in the United State we hold sacred our right to go to the polls and cast our vote. An argument in favor of electing Judges is that judges should be subject to the vote of the people because a judge, more than any other elected official, makes decisions that directly affect peoples' lives. Therefore, the judge should be held accountable to the public. However, the reality of selecting judges in this manner is that there are so many judicial candidates in any given election cycle that it is nearly impossible for the voter to gain access to every judge's campaign message. This is in turn leads to voter disinterest in the judicial races.
A significant downside to electing judges is the amount of money a candidate needs to raise to run an efficient campaign. We should not be asking our judicial candidates to raise literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to run for judge. And conversely, the candidate who is independently wealthy should not have a campaign advantage that has nothing to do with ability or experience. Moreover, there is the concern that political interest groups, which can offer a candidate a very appealing amount of money, may hold influence over that judge once elected. This leads to the citizens doubting the integrity and neutrality of the bench.
Appointing judges offers a different mechanism for selecting judges. However, the process we have now can be politically influenced. Ideally, the appointment process would be conducted by a panel of presiding judges from the court system who consider judicial applications. These individuals would have more information at their disposal than the average voter.
The benefit of this process would be that no fundraising would be involved. In theory, the presiding judges could review resumes and bar ratings as well as conduct interviews. This process would be more likely to produce qualified judges than the electoral process. Moreover, appointed judges would have no reason to be beholden to any political or special interest groups.
Thus, I think that a revised appointment process would be more likely to produce highly qualified and independent judges.
What special qualifications or experiences make you the best person to serve as a judge?
I think the most significant professional qualification
I have is the diversity of my practice. For six years I worked as a Cook County Assistant State's Attorney, and worked my way up to the Felony Trial Division.
point in my career I knew that I wanted to be a judge, and that in order to be a good one I would have to go into private practice. This was not an easy decision to make, seeing as I had one baby at home, one on the way and a wife who was not working. However, I knew it was the right direction for my career because a good judge should be well-rounded in legal experiences in order to bring a wide-array of talent to the bench. It was a decision that I have never regretted. Because of my decision to leave the State's Attorney's Office, I have benefitted greatly by broadening both my knowledge of the law and my legal abilities. Moreover, I have practiced in a wide area of both criminal and civil matters and have appeared in all six major courthouses of Cook County. Thus, I believe that the depth of my professional experience in both the public and the private sector, handling criminal and civil maters, makes me particularly qualified to be a judge.
Notably, I have now been a solo practitioner for most of my career. In this regard, I am accustomed to making every decision that affects my law practice, from scheduling clients to planning defense strategies to billing. Indeed, I make decisions every day that have long-lasting implications for my clients, and I do so in a careful and measured manner. I am therefore comfortable in the role of decision maker, which is a vital skill for a judge.
Finally,one of the most important elements the judge brings to the courtroom is his or her temperament. By nature, I am a calm person who does not over-react in tense situations. I have witnessed too many judges lose their temper in the courtroom, and all it does i make things worse for the litigants. Yet a significant part of the judge's responsibility is to be the leader in the courtroom, and to help maintain civility when the litigants are confused or angry. I am confident that a judge I would never engage in behavior that would degrade the system. Therefore, my temperament is a special qualification that makes me the best person to serve as judge.
What are your thoughts on mandatory sentencing? Do you believe judges should have greater leeway when it comes to sentencing defendants' Why or why not?
I believe that mandatory sentencing has a negative impact on the criminal justice system. Specifically, it deprives the judge of any discretion regarding the facts that have been presented in the courtroom. Moreover, mandatory sentencing places the legislature's agenda in the courtroom. The judge should be able to consider mitigating factors, such as the defendant's criminal background, whether the defendant was principally involved, and whether the defendant was a youthful offender with a chance of rehabilitation. Instead of allowing a judge to consider such factors, mandatory sentencing dictates the prison term, many times thrusting individuals into prison with more violent and seasoned criminals. Instead of mandatory sentencing, judges should have the opportunity to evaluate the individual and sentence him or her according to the crime and all relevant aggravating and mitigating factors.
What are your thoughts on the use of drug courts, domestic violence courts, veterans courts, mental health courts and prostitution courts' Have they been effective?
A major strength of the Circuit Court of Cook County is the various efforts by numerous officials to attempt to reduce the caseloads in the courts. I think diverting certain cases from the regular courtrooms and having them heard in specialty courts has the dual benefit of lightening court dockets while at the same time making sure that some our most vulnerable citizens get the attention, services and resources they need.
Moreover, I think that these specialty courts have been effective. For example, the drug courts are able to focus on the wide range of drug offenders, many of whom are mentally ill. Special care should be directed toward the non-violent drug offender. With the right sort of case treatment, which can include probation with community service, education and enrollment in drug treatment programs, there is a real chance to of reducing drug abuse and recidivism. Similarly, domestic violence courts are particularly qualified and equipped to handle the numerous challenges posed by domestic violence prosecutions.
Do you support eliminating the ban on cameras and recording devices in Illinois courtrooms' Why or why not?
I have no objection, in theory, to cameras and recording devices in Illinois courtrooms. Indeed, I think it's unfortunate that our nation's highest court, the U.S. Supreme Court, does not provide video footage of the arguments that are before the Court. Having recently witnessed a friend's argument before the Court, I think the experience of watching such an argument is something that all our citizens should be able to observe.
However, I am concerned with a lot of the behavior I've seen surrounding cases that are televised. The fascination the public has with these cases is disturbing, and the concern is that allowing the television cameras affects the direction of the trial. I think the public's right to be aware of legal proceedings is important. But I also think that the judge should have the power to terminate the cameras and recording devises if the case takes on a circus atmosphere.