Andrea Schleifer: Candidate Profile
12th Subcircuit (Rochford vacancy) (Democrat)
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: 12th Subcircuit (Rochford vacancy)
Family: Single, no children.
Occupation: Judge since Nov, 2010. Previously, Lawyer in private practice from 1979-2010, Caseworker, Ill. Dept of Public Aid, 1971-1977
Education: BA, Indiana University (Bloomington) 1970 JD, Loyola University School of Law 1979
Civic involvement: I 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 am currently a member of several Judicial Associations and many Bar Associations. In addition to being elected to offices in the Illinois State Bar Association and Decalogue Society of Law, as noted below, I have also been appointed to serve on various committees of both organizations, as well as chairing committees of these, the Chicago Bar and the Chicago Council of Lawyers. I investigated and evaluated candidates for judicial appointment or election 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), was a volunteer and served two terms on the Board of Chicago Volunteer Legal Services. I was legal advisor to the Board of the Illinois Council on Parental Child Abduction, and served on the Illinois Task Force on Child Support and the Chicago Abused Women Coalition, sponsors of the Greenhouse Shelter. I was a volunteer with Project LEAP (Legal Elections in All Precincts) and served as liaison from the alderman in the 48th ward to many community groups. I am a member of the International Crane Foundation.
Elected offices held: No public offices, except Commissioner of the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission. I have been elected to various offices in Bar Associations, including several offices in the Illinois State Bar Association,including Governor; and several 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. What many people don't realize is that in civil cases, unlike criminal cases, people do not have a right to 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 children, their homes or all of their assets (assuming they had any) while being forced to proceed through court processes themselves.
If civil money judgments are not paid, litigants can be incarcerated for contempt of court.
Because they often don't have enough information, individuals often don't seek legal help; even if they are aware of the 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 legal problems, often complex, without legal representation.
Volunteers and funding through grants and donations do not adequately address the problem.
When that study was done, fewer than 20% of individuals and families were able to obtain legal assistance.
Key Issue 2
I think the public needs to be better informed about the role of courts in society, and the way the court system operates.
Too much of what most people think happens in court is taken from tv criminal shows, like Law and Order, or shows such as "The People's Court" or Judge Judy.
Key Issue 3
I would like to have students have greater exposure to the role of the justice system in society, by teaching "street law" in more schools, and having organizations like the Illinois Judges' Association develop and present more programs like "7 reasons to leave a party early," which is a video directed toward teenagers.
Do you favor the appointment of judges or do you prefer the election process' Please explain your answer.
With some caveats, I prefer the appointment of judges -- at least in the Circuit Court of Cook County.
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 with that idea is that a determination of "merit" is subjective, and often those who are doing the selecting have their own biases; 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.
In most communities around the state, the election process works well.
There may be one or two vacancies for judge in any given election.
Candidates are often known in their community, personally or by reputation.
They are able to meet
voters, and 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.
In this election alone, there is not only a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but there are four vacancies on the Appellate Court, and as of this date, thirty-four vacancies on the Circuit Court.
Although numerous bar associations spend an incredible amount of time examining the background and qualifications of those who wish to run, being found "unqualified" by even a majority of bar evaluations does not preclude someone from throwing his or her hat into the ring. Many races have numerous candidates (my primary now has six).
A lack of resources make it impossible to evaluate candidates as frequently as one would like to occur.
Many voters either have no interest or information about judges. In Cook County there is a reported 40% drop off from people voting for the top of the ballot to those who vote for judges, which are at the bottom of the ballot.
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.
Most often the average voter doesn't know anything about the candidate, and so they vote for a comfortable name.
In spite of this problem, the vast majority of judges serving on the courts in this county are hardworking and have integrity.
What special qualifications or experiences make you the best person to serve as a judge?
For 31 years I was in a small (usually solo) general practice, representing individuals and businesses. I appeared in every division of the court, in administrative agencies, and even in other states. I represented both landlords and tenants; guardians and wards; plaintiffs and defendants; mothers, fathers and children.
Much of my practice was in what is generally referred to as "family law."
I did adoptions, divorces, custody and visitation matters: represented 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 I have an 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 deal 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 on the Illinois Task Force on Child Support, we helped to implement the changes in law
relating to child support collection.
Through my volunteer 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 legislation; with Julie Hamos (before she was an elected official), I co-authored the Parentage Act of 1984, made necessary when the Paternity Act was found by State and Federal Supreme Courts 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 with Rep. Sarah Feigenholtz to 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 legislative process have informed and enhanced my ability to understand the law, 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 with diligence; that consideration be given to the toll that any litigation has on the parties, and how any delay can cause serious ramifications.
I am very proud that prior to my appointment, I was found by my peers, to have the highest reputation for integrity and knowledge of the law (in an independent evaluation).
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 for a number of reasons.
A judge should be able to exercise discretion, based on the totality of circumstances.
I have read that 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 sentences create racial and gender disparities in sentencing, with Blacks comprising more than 80% of those convicted, although other government agencies say that 2/3 of crack cocaine users are not African-American.
Police officers have sometimes made decisions as to whether or not to make an arrest, or press charges against someone because of mandatory sentencing.
The laws are applied without considering other important factors, such as,
financial dependence or domestic abuse; whether or not the defendant has an addiction, is a hardworking contributor to society or is "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 with which they are dealing in court, 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, since I have been hearing custody and visitation cases I have become 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 would give the public more access to the reality of what goes on in the courts. I think that cameras in the Supreme Court of Illinois have been successful, and would encourage the Appellate Courts to adopt similar procedures.
However, there are many cases where cameras should not be allowed.
These include cases which involve adult or juvenile guardianships, children, like juvenile court proceedings, custody proceedings and the like.
Additionally, while most courts are open to the public, there are civil cases wherein a plaintiff may be seeking damages for injury; proving such a case may require presentation of information that might otherwise be protected by privacy laws, or intrusion into very personal matters of a plaintiff victim.
Having such information broadcast may result in another traumatizing experience.
It is of concern to me that most courtrooms in Cook County do not have court reporters, or even mechanical recording devices.
Presenting an appeal can be impossible if there is no official record of proceedings.