The nature of ‘The Beast’
POLITICS Time is changing how Cook County Dems slate judicial candidates
“Mysterious forces” hover in the air in this Hotel Allegro conference room as Cook County’s Democratic ward and township committeemen carve up “The Beast.”
“The Beast” is three seats on the state appellate court and seven seats on the Cook County Circuit Court.
In the old days, cigar smoke hung in the air as ward bosses parceled out the judgeships as prizes to lawyers who had been loyal to the party or were relatives of powerful Democrats.
Loyalty and blood still count for plenty here, but now diversity in race, gender and sexual orientation matter, as do legal skills. This biennial pageant, held Sept. 10, becomes less circus every two years and more negotiation. Instead of cigars, committeemen sport laptops they use to tap away and “tweet” during the slating.
But before the day is over, these committeemen will hear a judge dare them to grab for “the most succulent part of The Beast” instead of “the scraps”; a lawyer will confess that she ran as a “ringer” (fake judicial candidate) in the past to protect the party’s candidate and now she’d like to collect her reward — and one committeeman will even sneak in an actual cigar.
Voters increasingly make up their own minds, so the ward bosses can’t guarantee the election of all the judges they slate, but most of the lawyers slated here today will likely make it onto the bench.
Dining on ‘The Beast’
Judge Joyce Murphy Gorman won a seat on the Circuit Court nine years ago, just four years out of law school. Now she wants to ascend to the appellate court.
“I have spoken to many of you, and many of you are questioning: Why don’t I get my say? Why is there a mysterious power exercising forces over me?” Gorman says, raising her hands and looking toward the ceiling as committeemen listen with eyes widening.
“I’m urging you to . . . exercise your power in your own way, and not sit back while the mysterious power watches you do their work for [them] and you wait to be thrown a scrap once in a while while others dine on the most succulent part of The Beast.”
Committeemen laugh and look at each other in disbelief. “Who is the mysterious power?” some ask each other. Master of ceremonies Ald. Ed Burke (14th) and the other top committeemen?
“Two of the candidates you’ve seen today have ties to the same powerful law firm,” Gorman says.
Two candidates have or had spouses with ties to the Corboy & Demetrio firm, which donates money to the Democratic Party. Is the firm a “mysterious power?”
“I hope to become the first Swedish. Irish, German, French, Bohemian, Polish, Italian appellate court justice,” Gorman says.
“C’mon, time!” exasperated mayoral brother John Daley shouts from the floor.
Here’s who wins judicial elections in Cook County: women with Irish names. For whatever reason in this county where half of the residents are women and 17 percent claim Irish ancestry, women lawyers with Irish names win more than 50 percent of all countywide judicial elections.
That’s why some lawyers of Jewish or other ancestry legally adopt Irish names to run for judge here. That’s why when party leaders slate men without Irish names, such as William Haddad, who would have been the first Arab-American full Circuit Court judge in Cook County, the party recruits Irish women lawyers to run as “ringers” or “stalking horses” to flood the ballot and fracture the Irish-woman vote.
The rules are clear for ringers, if unwritten: Don’t campaign, not even a sign in your front lawn. Your job is to siphon votes from Irish women candidates really running for judge — not to win, though sometimes that happens, and then you get to be judge. You may be rewarded for your service by being slated for judge in future elections. But you’re not supposed to admit you’re a fake candidate.
Apparently prosecutor Barbara Bailey was not adequately briefed.
Burke welcomes Bailey to the podium. She talks of her work as a prosecutor and adds, “My father was a judge for over 20 years, and he was helpful getting union backing for the party.”
“That’s true,” a committeeman adds from the floor.
“I believe I would probably get union backing with his connections,” she says.
Then she spills the beans: “I did run five years ago for judge. I did run in a race. It was my understanding that the committeemen or that people for the Democratic Party put out my petitions, I had them signed. I was told not to raise money and not do any campaigning. I didn’t. I got 88,000 votes not doing anything. . . . I came in third in that race, right behind the slated candidate.”
Ohhh, bad form! You’re not supposed to publicly discuss the party’s “ballot management” strategy.
The committeemen know this is how the game is played. Is it good government? No. Is it fair that qualified Jewish or Italian-American judges can’t win countywide judicial elections in Cook County because the electorate here votes its ethnic prejudices? No. So this is what the party does. The slated candidate in that 2004 race was the highly rated Haddad, who nearly squeaked in, with 121,000 votes. But Kathleen Marie Burke, an Irish woman lawyer who was really running for judge, was lucky enough to secure the top ballot spot, winning 128,000 votes.
Bailey, who has run a few times for judge, will not be slated. Neither will Gorman.
The committeemen slate 10 qualified, connected lawyers for judge. Calls to replace this system with an appointive “merit selection” system are laughed out of Springfield whenever they’re introduced.
A more extensive story on judicial slating is at www.suntimes.com.