Andrea Schleifer: Candidate Profile
Cook Circuit, 12th Subcircuit (Rochford vacancy)
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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.
City: Des Plaines
Office sought: Cook Circuit, 12th Subcircuit (Rochford vacancy)
Family: Single, no children. Parents and only sibling are deceased. My niece, nephews and their families are an important part of my life.
Occupation: Circuit Court Judge since Nov. 2010. Lawyer in private (solo or small) law practice from 1979-2010; Caseworker with the Department of Public Aid, 1971-1977.
Education: B.A. Indiana University (Bloomington)1970; JD Loyola University School of Law, 1979.
Civic involvement: I currently serve on the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, and on the Child Support Advisory Committee of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. I have been very active in Bar Associations: in addition to being elected to offices in the Illinois State Bar Association and the Decalogue Society of Law. I have also been appointed to serve on numerous committees of both of these organizations, as well as the American Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Council of Lawyers. Because of my commitment to a qualified judiciary, I investigated and evaluated candidates for judge on behalf of the Alliance of Bar Associations. I served on the Board of Neighborhood Justice of Chicago (n/k/a the Center for Conflict Resolution) and received training so that I could mediate disputes. I volunteered with, and served two terms on the Board of Chicago Volunteer Legal Services. I was on the board of the Chicago Abused Women Coalition, co-founded the Illinois Task Force on Child Support and was legal advisor to the Board of the Illinois Council on Parental Child Abduction. I am a member of the National Organization for Women, the Nature Conservancy, the International Crane Foundation, among other not-for-profit organizations.
Elected offices held: I have not been elected to public office. I was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to the fill the vacancy of Mary K. Rochford on the Circuit Court, the position for which I am now seeking election. I have been elected to various offices in Bar Associations, including Governor and member of the Assembly of the Illinois State Bar Association; and offices in Decalogue Society of Lawyers, including President.
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No.
Key Issue 1
I would like to see increased, meaningful access to the courts, especially in civil cases. Many people don't realize that in civil cases, unlike criminal cases, people do not have a right to free counsel. However, in civil cases, concerning issues as important as custody, domestic violence, physical and financial abuse of the elderly, evictions, foreclosures and the like, individuals may lose their homes, all of their assets, or even access to their children. An individual can be incarcerated for months if a judge determines that there has been a violation of a civil court order. There is no right to counsel in such a case. Because they often lack sufficient education about the legal process, individuals often fail to seek legal help; even if they are aware of a need for legal help, many lack the financial resources to obtain it, and are left to navigate the system by themselves. A study published in Illinois in 2005 showed that in 2003 alone, poor people faced more than 1.3 million civil, often complex legal problems, without a lawyer. The mortgage foreclosure crisis has publicized the fact that it is not only the poor, but those of moderate income, as well, who face potentially devastating losses. Although most lawyers generous contribute time or money, volunteers and donations are not adequate to resolve this problem.
Key Issue 2
Too much of what many people think happens in court is taken from tv shows, such as "The People's Court" or "Judge Judy." These shows may be entertaining, but they are not realistic. It would be helpful if the public was better informed about litigation, which, even at its best, is a lengthy, and often costly process.
Key Issue 3
The public should be better educated as to the critical role the legal system (and thus a judge) has in society, and in their lives. If people were more aware of how critical a decision by a judge can be, perhaps they would be more conscientious in investigating the qualifications of judicial candidates.
Do you favor the appointment of judges or do you prefer the election process? Please explain your answer.
In a jurisdiction as large as Cook County, I prefer the appointment of judges. This does not apply in all cases. Conventional wisdom suggests that appointed judges are better than elected judges; however a study published by professors at NYU, Duke and U of Chicago a few years ago found little empirical evidence to support that conclusion. When people speak of appointed judges, they often refer to "merit selection." The problem is that a determination of "merit" is subjective, and those who are doing the "selecting" have their own biases; they are influenced overtly or otherwise by things that are not otherwise apparent. Studies that have been done in the past of merit selection systems have found that women and minorities have been under-represented. I would prefer that any election of judges be non-partisan. It is unfortunate that Illinois requires a party affiliation. In most communities around the state, which are smaller, the election process works pretty well: there may be one or two vacancies for judge in any given election; candidates are often known in their community. Thus the voters are able to make informed decisions as to who they, personally, think would be the best judge based on their own observations and knowledge of the candidates. That is not at all the case in Cook County, which is many times larger, in both area and population, than most of the other counties. Thus, there is much less likelihood of personal knowledge of the judicial candidates. In the most recent primary, there was not only a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but four vacancies on the Appellate Court, and more than thirty-four vacancies on the Circuit Court. Although numerous bar associations in Cook County spend an incredible amount of time examining the background and qualifications of those who wish to run, being found "unqualified" by even ALL bar associations does not preclude someone from throwing his or her hat into the ring, and even winning. It becomes frustrating for the many lawyers that volunteer untold hours to investigate and interview candidates in Cook County. It is nearly impossible to evaluate candidates as thoroughly or as frequently as would be optimal. It is a thankless task to volunteer for that important task, especially when voters fail to take the time to consider those evaluations. Because they don't understand how important good judges are, many people don't take the time to make good choices, if they vote for judges at all. In Cook County there is a reported 40% drop-off from people voting for the positions at the top of the ballot to those who vote for judges, which are at the bottom of the ballot. In Cook County even most informed judges and lawyers find it difficult to learn about the candidates, and even those wishing to be informed about who they are voting for never meet the candidate personally; at best they may rely on bar ratings or political or newspaper endorsements. When the average voter doesn't know anything about the candidate, too often he or she votes for a comfortable name. In spite of this problem, the vast majority of judges now serving on the Cook County Circuit bench are hardworking and have a high level of integrity.
What special qualifications or experiences make you the best person to serve as a judge?
For 31 years I was in a small (or solo) general practice, representing individuals and small businesses. I appeared in every division of the Circuit Court, in administrative agencies, and even in courts in other states. I represented both landlords and tenants; plaintiffs and defendants; guardians and wards; mothers, fathers and children. I handled complex litigation including dissolution of businesses, and sued (and won) a discrimination case against a state agency, Much of my practice was in what is generally referred to as "family law:" adoptions, divorces, custody and visitation matters; or representing people in juvenile and probate court. As a lawyer, I was never an employee of a government. My clients were not usually wealthy, and they had to pay for services. As a result of my background, I have an unusual appreciation of how difficult and costly litigation often is - not only financially, but emotionally. For more than 25 years I was privileged to be appointed by judges to represent children in custody and visitation matters, and when a screening committee was formed in 1986 to evaluate individuals who sought appointment to represent children, I was asked to serve on it, and on the Advisory Committee to the Presiding Judge of the Domestic Relations Division. In addition, for decades prior to my appointment to the bench, I was involved in working with the administrators of the court system. I was on the implementation committee for the Domestic Violence Act, and worked with the Chief and Presiding Judges to establish the protocol to hear cases that have both a civil and criminal component, and that dealt not only with cases that could be heard in Domestic Relations Division, the Municipal Division (which heard cases under the Paternity Act), the Probate Division, and Criminal Courts, as well. Through volunteer work I helped to implement the changes in law relating to child support collection. Through activities with the State Bar Association and many women's organizations, I helped organize a coalition which drafted amendments to the Domestic Violence Act. I have also worked with legislators to draft other legislation: I co-authored the Parentage Act of 1984, made necessary when the Paternity Act was found by to be unconstitutional because children born outside of marriage were being treated differently than were children born to a married couple. As a result of several cases in which I was required to initiate suit against adoption agencies, I worked helped draft the Adoption Reform Act, which provided for greater scrutiny of adoptions and regulation of those who profited from them. My representation of individuals, my work with bar associations, community groups and the legislature have informed and enhanced my ability to understand the law, its impact and to apply it even-handedly. Because I was "in the trenches" for so long, I appreciate how important it is that litigants be treated with respect; that litigation proceed expeditiously; that consideration be given to the toll that any litigation has on the parties, and how any delay can cause serious ramifications. As a practitioner I was honored that my peers found me to have the highest reputation for integrity and knowledge of the law (in an independent, anonymous evaluation). I am additionally honored that all 13 bar associations that evaluated my found me Well Qualified, Qualified or Recommended to serve as judge. My broad experience, sensitivity to litigants and knowledge of the law make me the best person to serve as a 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 do not believe in mandatory sentencing. A judge should be able to exercise discretion, based on the totality of circumstances in any given situation. A top drug advisor to former President GHW Bush, who had advocated for mandatory minimum sentencing law for cocaine crimes, has now called the laws which resulted as "unconscionable." He observed that mandatory sentencing results in racial and gender disparities, with minorities comprising more than 80% of those convicted, although government agencies say that 2/3 of just crack cocaine users are white. Because of mandatory sentencing, police officers have sometimes made decisions as to whether or not to make an arrest, or prosecutors have made decisions about whether or not to press charges against an offender. It is better to have those decisions made by judges. Mandatory sentencing does not allow for consideration of other important factors: e.g. an offender's financial dependence, history of domestic abuse; whether or not the defendant has an addiction, is brilliant or of less than average intelligence; is a hardworking contributor to society or is simply "a bad actor."
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?
The use of specialized courts is a good one. They have been effective. Judges who are able to hear cases in a narrower area of law are better able to make informed decisions. Not only because they are more familiar with the law, they are also able to gain familiarity with resources available to address the problems they are addresing, and work with outside resources to develop programs which can keep the defendants (or other litigants) from falling into the activities which have required court intervention. For example, I heard mostly custody and visitation cases for 16 months. Because of that, I became more familiar with many providers of services for counseling, for family therapy, for supervised visitation and for restorative justice programs which address resolving family conflict in a wholistic way. Those who have presided over drug courts have helped divert defendants into programs which reduce recidivism.
Do you support eliminating the ban on cameras and recording devices in Illinois courtrooms? Why or why not?
Yes, with limitations. Lifting the ban, which the Illinois Supreme Court has now authorized, will give help educate the public to the reality of what goes on in the courts. Chief Judge Timothy Evans has just announced that we can expect cameras in some courtrooms in Cook County before the end of this year. However, there are some courts where cameras should not be allowed. These include cases which involve such personal matters involving children or the disabled. Additionally, while virtually all courts are open to the public, there are civil cases wherein a plaintiff may be seeking damages for injury; litigating such a case may require presentation of evidence that might otherwise be protected by privacy laws, or that could cause intrusion into very sensitive and personal matters of a litigant. Having such information broadcast may result in an unnecessary additional traumatizing experience. It is currently of concern to me that most courtrooms in Cook County do not have official court reporters, or even mechanical recording devices. Without an official record of proceedings, pursuing an appeal can be nearly impossible.
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