Daniel Epstein: Candidate profile


Party: Democratic

City: Evanston

Office sought: Illinois Supreme Court justice

Age: 34

Family: Danielle Del Fierro (partner)

Occupation: Attorney


• Law School: University of Chicago.

• Undergraduate: Washington University in St. Louis.

• High School: Evanston Township High School

Civic involvement:

• Perspective to the People - co-founder and president (2017-present)

Perspective is a nonprofit partnering with the office of Ald. Taliaferro and a block club to provide free citizen-owned home security cameras and solar panels to people in Chicago's Austin neighborhood.

• Chicago Bar Association Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee - chair (2018-2019)

The Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee is concerned with the uses and application of arbitration, mediation, conciliation, mini-trials and other alternate dispute resolution mechanisms; and acts as a clearinghouse for information regarding training sessions for mediators and arbitrators.

• Jewish Council on Urban Affairs - director of the board (2018-present)

JCUA is "the Jewish voice for social justice in Chicago." JCUA's recent work has focused on economic development - issuing zero-interest loans for affordable housing and economic development projects through its Community Ventures Program - and organizing the Jewish community to advocate for police accountability and community safety, immigration reform, the South Side trauma center, and protections for domestic workers.

• Lawndale Christian Legal Center - Young Professionals Council member and volunteer (2016-present)

LCLC provides legal services grounded in restorative justice for youth in the Lawndale area. I have volunteered with LCLC's mock trial team and, as a member of the Young Professionals Council, help bring resources to the organization.

• DC Young Democrats - national committeeman (2009-2011)

DCYD is the voice and organizing unit for young Democrats in Washington, D.C. As national committeeman, I organized for marriage equality and testified in the D.C. Council in support of the District's pioneering civil marriage equality act.

• America Educates - chief executive director (2010-2012)

American Educates was a nonprofit that I transformed into a fiscal sponsor, supporting education programs around the globe. One program, Ikirwa School, is located in Midawe, Tanzania where I briefly lived with, and worked alongside, a school founder to help him engage his member of parliament and get electricity for his village.

• Early Care and Education Consortium - director of the board (2011-2012)

ECEC is a nonprofit nationwide alliance of leading high-quality child care providers. The organization advocates for federal and state policies that help scale high-quality early childhood education.

• Jenner & Block LLP, Investing in Justice Campaign Committee - member (2017, 2018, 2019)

The Investing in Justice Campaign is the Chicago legal community's annual initiative to raise funds that go directly to support area pro bono and legal aid programs and their lawyers through grants from the Chicago Bar Foundation.

• Word Up DC - founder & chairman (2009-2012)

Word Up DC was a nonprofit attempting to teach creative writing to inmates in the D.C. Jail (but which failed when a new mayor froze all the programs of the mayor he replaced).

• Institute for New Economic Thinking's Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Global Working Group - member (2011-present)

The HCEO is an interdisciplinary collaboration incorporating biological, sociological, and psychological perspectives into traditional economic questions of inequality and human capital.

Previous elected offices held: None

Incumbent? If yes, when were first elected: No


Twitter: @epsteind


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 fairest judge cannot achieve justice in an unfair system. I am running to make the system itself fair.

We constantly talk about the problems of corruption, bias, police misconduct, mass incarceration, and inadequate access. Mine is the only campaign that has proposed solutions (

The Illinois Supreme Court dictates rules of procedure, evidence, ethics, and more. It has the power to prevent systemic injustices - to prevent judicial corruption by reforming recusal policy (, wrongful convictions based on junk forensic science by reforming our expert admission standard (, and serial police misconduct by reforming criminal discovery ( The Court has that unchallengeable power and thus the responsibility to use it.

Chesterton said, "the horrible thing about all legal officials, even the best, about all judges, magistrates, barristers, detectives, and policeman, is not that they are wicked (some of them are good), not that they are stupid (several of them are quite intelligent), it is simply that they have got used to it. Strictly they do not see the prisoner in the dock; all they see is the usual man in the usual place." The quality that sets me apart: I have not gotten used to these injustices.

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 am not aware of any existing matters that would cause a conflict of interest. However, Illinois Supreme Court Rule 63(C)(1) lists a number of scenarios whereby a conflict could arise in the future. Of those scenarios, the most likely would be if my former law firm, Jenner & Block, appeared as counsel within three years of my having worked there; or if a case I worked on came before the Court.

One potential conflict that is not listed in the Illinois Supreme Court Rules is if a major campaign donor appeared before the Court. Under the right circumstances, that could create a conflict or the appearance of a conflict, which could necessitate recusal (

However, it is important to note that mere promises to recuse are not sufficient. Relying on justices with potential conflicts to determine for themselves whether they have a conflict is itself a conflict. We need an independent body to determine conflicts and recusals. I am the only candidate calling for one (

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?

I have not served as a judge. As a general rule, judges should recuse when they have a bias or reasonable appearance of a bias for or against a party. That includes conflicts like the kind discussed in my answer to the previous question, but some other situations as well. For example, recusal may be necessary if a judge has personal knowledge about parties or facts of a case before them, or if they engage in ex parte communications with parties or counsel to a case before them.

Most important, however, is that we not rely exclusively on judges to recuse themselves. Honest and dishonest judges will both promise to recuse, so eliciting promises is not sufficient. The Illinois Supreme Court must create an independent body to determine recusals.

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.

Diversity is important. Representation matters especially because we have a system that is vulnerable to bias. That is why I am proud to run the only campaign in this race with a platform that is explicitly anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-xenophobic, and anti-transphobic. We are actively working to dismantle oppressive structures so that the courts we have tomorrow are better and fairer than the courts we have today (

I am proposing reforms to prevent racist jury selection, the use of racist pseudoscience, and biased sentencing. I am proposing reforms that will promote diversity on the bench and bar by tweaking the timing of the character & fitness assessment and switching from career to rotating clerks. And I am proposing reforms that could help level the path to partnership for women.

With respect to making appointments, I would hold an open process that invites members of the bar to apply, and I would form a committee of advisors and community members who would help recruit and assess applicants. I would consider a number of traditional factors as well as the following: community representation, community service, legal experience outside of Illinois, non-legal experience, productivity, intelligence, integrity, and independence.

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?

I want to expand the use of court reporters or digital recording in courts. In many courts in Illinois, transcripts of proceedings are not created unless a party hires their own court reporter. Court reporters are expensive, and thus some litigants are precluded from obtaining transcripts. Those transcripts are essential if they wish to win an appeal. Therefore, lack of money effectively prevents some litigants from enjoying their right to appeal. It also prohibits outside parties, like news agencies, from monitoring courts by pulling records of proceedings. I co-authored an article on this topic ( and we have made some progress since, but there is farther to go.

Electronic recording by news media is generally a good thing and should presumptively be allowed. The public record created by courts is valuable public good, and our courts should be public information factories. There are certain types of cases where privacy or safety may necessitate restrictions. For example, limiting recording may be justified in cases involving juveniles, protected witnesses, trade secrets, or where a party is weaponizing stigma to pressure a settlement. Additionally, media may be required to follow certain rules, like avoiding recording of attorney-client conversations and sidebars.

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

The devil is in the details. If public financing lowers the bar to entry but does not elevate candidacies enough to compete with moneyed candidates who opt out, then it may further exacerbate the advantage of moneyed candidates by attracting more candidates who split votes.

There is an easier way to reduce the influence of money on public officials: create an independent body to determine conflicts of interest and recusals. Currently, we rely on the honor system to stop justices from deciding cases for campaign donors. The honor system has a poor track record in Illinois.

The candidates in this election addressed this issue in a recent forum: Promises to recuse cannot be relied upon. Promises to intentionally blind oneself to the identity of campaign donors are not credible. And promises to recuse "at least while running for this office" offer no assurance once elected. We need structural assurances of integrity and the best way to do that is by having an independent body determine conflicts and recusals.

As for slating, I do not see it as a particularly effective way to promote the quality of the Court or even to promote the values supposedly espoused by the parties.

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