Cynthia Y. Cobbs: Candidate profile


Party: Democratic

City: Orland Park

Office sought: Supreme Court Judge (Justice)

Age: 69

Family: Husband, Austin L. Cobbs

Occupation: Justice - Illinois Appellate Court

Education: B.A. - Sociology - Morgan State College (University)

M.S.W. - University of Maryland

J.D. - IIT - Chicago Kent College of Law

Civic involvement:

Board Member - South Suburban PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) - 2010 - Present

PADS is a not-for profit organization the mission of which is to provide shelter, social services and resources to the homeless population (families and children) in the Southland with the goal of restoring those individuals to independent living in their own homes.

Board Member - Lawyers Lend a Hand to Youth - 2014 - Present

Lawyers Lend a Hand is a not for profit organization which identifies and provides grant funding to support programs which provide mentoring services to at risk youth in the City of Chicago.

Tutoring Program - Englewood Montessori School - 2016 - Present

Under the auspices of the Lawyers Lend a Hand organization, every Tuesday evening, more than 45 children who attend the Englewood Montessori School are transported from the school to a downtown location for tutoring. I have been and continue to serve as a regular tutor to the same student since the program's inception. The focus of the tutoring session is a focus on reading and comprehension and math.

A Conversation With the Judges - In 2013/14, I developed and introduced "A Conversation with the Judges," a program, which was subsequently adopted by the Illinois Judicial Council. The Conversation program involves judges serving in certain (high volume) court calls, including traffic, eviction, debt collection, parentage and mortgage foreclosure, who meet as a panel with citizens in an informal setting to discuss and answer questions (and to allay fears) concerning court procedures, the consequences of failing to appear, how to comport one's self in court and what to expect when appearing in court. The program remains a component of the Council's community outreach.

Bi-Annual Expungement Summit

At least twice annually, the clerk of the circuit court hosts an expungement summit, which provides access for individuals who meet legal criteria to have their criminal records expunged. I am one of several judges who, at every summit since 2011, participate on site in the summit conducting hearings and entering orders on the waiver of court fees, which can only be performed by a sitting judge.

Elected offices held: Cook County Circuit Court Judge

Incumbent? If yes, when were first elected:


Twitter: @justicecobbs

Facebook: Justice Cynthia Cobbs for Supreme Court of Il

Questions and Answers

1. Why are you running for the Illinois Supreme Court? What skills, qualities or experiences set you apart from your opponents?

The work of the Supreme Court, as defined in the Illinois Constitution is two-fold, deciding cases accepted on appeal (adjudicative), and administering the Illinois court system (administrative). I am the only candidate to have devoted more than 15 years of legal (adjudicative) and administrative service directly to the Supreme Court.

Adjudicative Work - For more than 7 years, I served as the Senior Judicial Law Clerk to Supreme Court Justice Charles Freeman. I reviewed and made recommendations on the disposition of petitions, motions, and cases accepted on appeal by the Court. On Justice Freeman's behalf, I conducted the legal research and analysis and wrote the drafts in more than 30 filed Supreme Court opinions. In my five years an Appellate Court Justice, I have authored approximately 400 written dispositions (opinions/Rule 23 orders).

Administrative Work - For more than 9 years, I served by appointment of the Supreme Court, as the Court's Director. I worked directly with the Supreme Court in administering every aspect of the entire state court system, including reviewing and administering Supreme Court Rules, managing the Court's annual budget, overseeing training of judges, overseeing the delivery of probation services and implementing e-filing in the trial courts I possess the experience and first-hand knowledge of the full scope of the Supreme Court's operations to immediately and fully engage in the work of the Court.

I came up through the ranks in the Illinois court system having rendered more than 30 years of public service to the citizens of State of Illinois through my work in the Illinois courts. I bring not only the legal competence, but also the administrative experience to immediately engage in every aspect of the Supreme Court's work.

2. Please identify potential conflicts of interest that might arise if you are elected to the Illinois Supreme Court, including family members, former law partners, clients or companies or government agencies for which you have worked. How would you address such a conflict?

I have served in the Illinois courts as an Appellate Court Research Attorney, Appellate and Supreme Court Judicial Law Clerk, Staff Attorney, Chief Legal Counsel, Director of the Illinois Courts, Circuit Court Judge and as an Appellate Court Justice. In those capacities, and for the past 30 years, I have not been engaged in litigation on behalf of any of the identified groups above. That said, during the campaign, there or likely will be individuals, companies or firms that have contributed to my campaign. I typically maintain a firewall between me and any contributors. Should I become aware of any who contributed, I would recuse myself or not participate in any cases in which a contributor became known to me. I would of course not participate in any case in which either a family member or a former employee, during tenure as the Director of the Courts or as an employer of judicial law clerks, is a named party.

3. If you are or have been a judge, have you ever recused yourself from a case? If so, was it in response to a motion or suggestion by a party to the case? In what circumstances should a Supreme Court justice recuse himself or herself?

Yes, I have on occasion recused myself. My recusal has never been in response to any motion but has, instead, been based on my interest in ensuring confidence in the courts. As judges, our conduct is governed by the Code of Judicial Conduct. Under the Code, we are charged to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. I believe the basis for recusal, or as provided in the Supreme Court, "Not Participating" in a case, should be the same for all judges at every level of our courts. To the extent our participation in a case creates a perception of a lack of objectivity or fairness we should consider the basis for that perception and, if legitimate or valid, we should not participate in the case. The public's confidence in the courts and a judge's rulings should outweigh any judge's interest in participating in a case.

4. How important is racial and gender diversity on the Illinois Supreme Court and across the judiciary? How would it guide your actions when making appointments to the bench? Please explain your answer.

Racial and gender bias have a direct correlation to the public's trust and confidence in our courts. It is critical that the judiciary, at every level, mirror the ethnic, racial and gender makeup of the public which we serve. Regardless of any judge's ability to render fair and unbiased rulings or decisions, to the extent the justice system, which impacts people of color in the criminal justice system disproportionately, is not diverse, we risk a critical component in the administration of justice, i.e., trust and confidence in the courts. Studies have shown that litigants typically adhere to a court's rulings and judgements because they have some faith or confidence in those judgements. However, when those who render those rulings do not reflect the diverse populations which they serve we risk an erosion of that trust. The current make-up of our Supreme Court is predominantly white. In this election cycle, there is some risk of losing an African American presence on the Court. The voters in Cook County will decide, with their vote, the issue of diversity.

During my tenure as Director of the Courts, I became aware that the judicial branch maintained no data, particularly on the race of members of the judiciary. Each year, when appearing before the legislature, I would be confronted with the question of diversity. As a result, as Director of the Courts, I required that every judge, upon being elected or appointed to the bench, complete a simple form, identifying, at a minimum, his/her race and gender. That information is hopefully continuing to be captured by the Director of the Courts. It is that type of data that can and should be utilized by the Court in making appointments, not only to fill judicial vacancies, but also in making appointments to the more than 20 standing committees commissions and boards under the Court's authority that support the Court's administrative work. Prior to making any appointments, I would seek to review the collected data and to engage in dialogue with the Court and the nominating justice about the current makeup of a particular court or committee and advocate for a method to provide greater diversity. For instance, with respect to committees, the nominating justice could look beyond the district he/she serves in order to achieve greater racial and gender diversity.

5. What measures do you support for enabling the public to monitor court activities in Illinois? Should courts in Illinois be required to allow electronic recording by news media?

First, I would offer, that with some important exceptions, all courtrooms in Illinois are open to the public. Any member of the public may attend most court proceedings. The issue of cameras in Illinois courtrooms has for many years been a subject for consideration by the Supreme Court and the there has been some evolution and relaxation under Supreme Court Rule 63, which now permits, within certain parameters, cameras in the courtroom. I believe that a judge must always enjoy discretion to control activities in his/her courtroom. There must be, in deciding whether to permit electronic recording, a balancing of the needs to protect the parties and witnesses and, in jury trials, the jurors, against the needs of the media to inform the public. I think instead of a mandatory requirement to permit recording, that the discretion should remain with the presiding judge. In order to avoid delay of a trial, should there be a denial of a request by the media made in advance of trial, there should be a mechanism in place (motion for supervisory order) for the immediate/expedited review of that denial by the Chief Judge with ultimate review by the high court.

5. Do you support public financing of campaigns for Illinois Supreme Court? Do you support political party slating for candidates for Illinois Supreme Court?

Public financing of judicial elections means that the campaign of any candidate, qualified to seek office or not, would be borne by the taxpayer. I think such a burden would be unfair. I think instead that because we elect our judges and because candidates must engage in campaigning, there should be a maximum on the amount any individual contributor could contribute, even a candidate who decides to self-fund. In other words, the funding field should be made even for all candidates.

With respect to slating, I believe that political party slating invites into judicial campaigns the very factor which we seek to avoid having influence on judges, i.e., politics. Try as we might, we cannot in all honesty dispute that political slating may be based, not necessarily on which candidate is the most qualified or experience to perform the work of the Supreme Court, but instead, on which candidate is able to garner the greater number of votes of the elected officials voting on the matter.

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