Quick Hits – Judging the Judicial Candidates

If The First Ward has any overarching theme lately, it’s the importance of paying attention to our judges. Not only are they the highest paid elected and appointed officials in any county, but they regularly affect countless Kane County citizens’ lives.

For example, as a result of covering Judge John Dalton’s constant bullying of plaintiffs and defendants, and all sorts of other judicial shenanigans, at least three people a week are reaching out to me to help them deal with Dalton and Kane County’s application of what they like to call “justice.”

Meanwhile, we’ve got five candidates running for the same soon-to-be-vacant 16th Circuit seat.

Though the local newspapers generally don’t endorse judicial candidates, the Illinois State Bar Association provides some rather thorough ratings and well-researched recommendations for any attorney running for judge. So, let’s review our five contenders:

1. Former Elgin State Senator Michael Noland


I haven’t laughed this hard in a long time. Please keep in mind that the ISBA ranks candidates on a 1 to 100 scale. Here are candidate Noland’s ratings:

  • 19.78 – Meets the requirement of the office – That’s about right
  • 44.09 – Integrity – That’s way too high for this pathological liar
  • 42.05 – Impartiality
  • 15.96 – Legal ability – Pretty much dead on
  • 56.32 – Temperament – that’s 46 points too high
  • 32.53 – Court management

Those are the lowest ratings I’ve ever seen the ISBA bestow upon any candidate, but when you consider that the former Senator Noland:

  • Got thrown out of a Carpentersville polling place by the police
  • Sued Springfield for back pay after making a big deal out of forgoing that pay
  • Got caught plagiarizing a JFK speech on the Senator floor
  • Was stopped for speeding while driving on a no-insurance citation
  • Got caught stealing his opponent’s yard signs on video
  • Was fired from the Public Defender’s office for incompetence
  • And then there’s all those other wom…, well, you know…

do those abysmal ratings really surprise anyone? The last thing Kane County needs is a judge even worse than John Dalton already is. Please cross him off your list!


2. Circuit Clerk Tom Hartwell

To be fair, my former friend Mr. Hartwell and I have had a massive falling out after he personally asked me to be a part of his campaign team, and then turned on me without a second thought when pressured to do so. The false accusation really bothered me, too.


What I will say is, after subsequent conversations with people I trust, it’s clear that Tom should never wear the black dress. And the Illinois Bar Association agrees. Sadly, Hartwell’s ratings would’ve been rock bottom had Mike Noland not been in the race.

Out of respect for a former friend, I won’t post them here, but in the end, neither I nor the ISBA recommend Tom Hartwell.


3. Associate Judge Elizabeth Flood

I was prepared to give her two hearty First Ward thumbs up, but Houston, we have a problem.

She’s an excellent judge – and her ISBE ratings reflect that – but Judge Flood has a well-known propensity for favoring the prosecution. Her reputation isn’t quite as bad as “Hang ‘em High” Hallock (16th Circuit Judge James Hallock), but she’s always made me nervous.


Here’s what turned our thumbs up to thumbs down!

Judge Flood accepted an endorsement from Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon. And endorsements are like any other political favor, they always require a quid pro quo. Do any of us really want to have to appear in front of a judge who’s beholden to the State’s Attorney himself?

For future reference, the fact that a sitting State’s Attorney would endorse a sitting judge is so far beyond the pale, I’m almost speechless. And I’m Jeff Ward! It’s yet more evidence that Joe McMahon has absolutely no clue.

Should Judge Flood renounce that endorsement, those thumbs will flip back up. But until that happens, I cannot, in good faith, recommend her for full circuit judge.


4. Associate Judge David Kliment

How he managed to pull off a rather high integrity rating is beyond me. Apparently, sometimes the ISBA gets it wrong. To wit:

  • He ran the Public Defender’s office as if it was his own personal fiefdom
  • He hired his attorney wife to “work from home” for a salary greater than the full-timers
  • He hired his then-college age daughter part-time for a salary greater than similar full-timers
  • When the new PD forced his wife to work in the office, she threw a tantrum and stormed out
  • He regularly wrote scathing letters to the county board which greatly damaged the office
  • He accepted a negotiated plea allowing a Caucasian dual felony arsonist to serve just 15 days, something that never would’ve happened with a black or Hispanic perp
  • His courtroom staff treats crime victims far worse than the criminals

I could continue, but I’m sure you get the idea. Kliment is one of the most imperious individuals I’ve ever had the misfortune of meeting, and he shouldn’t be serving on the bench on his best day.


5. Former Juvenile Prosecutor Lark Cowart

We’ve saved the best for last because Lark is clearly the best candidate for 16th Circuit judge.

Lark 2

Lark served as the lead juvenile prosecutor for most of her 14 years at the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office, and that’s one of the most difficult gigs on the planet. I’d melt into a pool of microwaved Jello after two short weeks.

She’s been twice nominated for Prosecutor of the Year and she’s a respected first responder and child protection professional legal trainer.

Though this is far less important than her stellar resume, Lark was one of the few bright spots in my journey through the Kane County justice system as a felony crime victim. She is a brilliant attorney who gets it, and we desperately need judges who get it.

Though Lark wasn’t as highly rated as the sitting judges – the ISBA always favors sitting judges – she beat the pants off Noland and Hartwell. In fact, she’s the only ISBA recommended non-sitting judge in the race.

Had Lark been practicing in felony court, and not that closed juvenile courtroom, her peers would’ve had a far greater opportunity to see a great legal mind at work.

Lark’s biggest problem is a lack of campaign funds.

I’m pulling a Democratic primary ballot this round because we actually have some interesting primary races. But even if it was like it was in the good old days when the Kane County Republican primary was the “real race,” I’d still ask for a Democratic ballot just to vote for Lark.

I hope you do the same, dear readers!


BTW, congratulations to Judges Rene Cruz and Clint Hull for getting some of the bleepin’ best ISBA ratings I’ve ever seen! Though I’m convinced Clint bribed them.

One thought on “Quick Hits – Judging the Judicial Candidates

  1. An ISBA recommendation means nothing. The poll is conducted by mail, no minimum response size and the recommendation is based on a 65% “positive” response rate. Consistently earn 65% on exams and you flunk out of any Kane County school.

    These candidates should all provide more disclosure. Any complaints to ARDC? IJRB? Record of appeals-any indication of consistent bias or ignorance? Business background-if you don’t have one, how can you possibly review financial statements and establish an equitable distribution of assets in family court or a civil case? Ever been arrested? I’d like any current associate judge state that, if they lose, they will immediately resign their political appointment, otherwise the vote is a sham. I mean really, how can a candidate lose a judicial election, and then stay on the bench. That could never happen in Kane County, could it?

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