Quick Hits – It’s time to pay attention to judicial appointments!

Quick Hits – It’s time to pay attention to judicial appointments!

Alright! Without further ado, let’s continue with what was supposed to be a part of yesterday’s Quick Hits! And I’m still way too long-winded!

You certainly wouldn’t know it from the local papers, but tomorrow (1/15), our elected judges will choose two associate judge finalists, one of whom will replace retired Judge Linda Abrahamson.

While our local men and women in black may not affect our lives nearly as much as those vaunted Supreme Court Justices do, it would be a serious mistake to underestimate their import. Judge John Dalton has taken great delight in destroying families just because he can, while Judge Bill Parkhurst has had the kind of positive effect on people that’s just short of magical.

judicial appointments

Just like those far-reaching gravitational waves created by the collision or two distant neutron stars, those courtroom ripples have an inexorably profound effect on our lives. Destroyed family members go on to wreak their own brand of havoc, while those shown mercy, guidance, and wisdom tend to pay it forward.

It’s nothing more than a simple matter of cause and effect.

So, not only will our new judge’s leanings and courtroom comportment be critical, but the Kane County judiciary should reflect the people they serve.

Oh! I can hear my conservative friends now! “So, a black, Hispanic, or female judge is automatically more qualified than the white male variety?” Of course not! But very little good ever comes from any law enforcement arm that fails to adequately represent our increasingly diverse populace.

Have you ever been to a Geneva, Illinois, Branch Court traffic call? Despite that community coming in at 95 percent Caucasian, without fail, 60 to 70 percent of the folks sitting in those chairs will be black, Hispanic, and Asian-Indian.

The reason that tacit bias regularly occurs is, of 35 sworn Geneva officers, just one is Hispanic, and just one is black. And when you’ve had nothing but negative minority experiences, it only reinforces an already insidious lack of perspective.

To further exacerbate this incredible imbalance, as often as I’ve walked those judicial center corridors, I have yet to encounter a single black prosecutor. For all I know they’re may be one or two, but like Bigfoot, I haven’t found any evidence of their existence.

And our judiciary isn’t much better. Of our 30 current circuit and associate judges:

  • 21 are male
  •   9 are female
  •   4 are Hispanic
  •   1 is Asian-Indian, and
  •   0 are black

In a county that’s 57 percent white, 33 percent Hispanic, 6 percent black, and 50.2 percent female, there’s certainly room for improvement there!

So, at a time when the Motion Picture Academy is being vilified for failing to nominate just one female best director candidate, my response to those conservative friends would be, “You mean to tell me there isn’t a single qualified black attorney in all of Kane County? And male attorneys are generally twice as good as their female counterparts?”

Considering their argument and those judicial statistics, those are the only conclusions that could possibly support that logic.

As to dismissing the latter count, for the last five years, my favorite friends have been almost exclusively female attorneys, because they have to be tough as nails, they develop an amazing sense of humor just to survive the job, and they have to be twice as smart as their male counterparts to succeed.

Put more simply, I wouldn’t have a problem with a slate of solely female judges.

But the truth is, we need judges who not only reflect their constituency, but who’ve experienced a wide variety of legal possibilities. We’ve already had more than our share of former prosecutors who’ve never touched a defense table, never tried a civil case, and never been a part of a successful private practice.

Some erudite attorneys insist that, since they’ve seen a slew of state’s attorney abuses, former prosecutors often turn out to be the most liberal. And because former public defenders have seen the worst of our criminal offenders, they often become the most severe judges

There’s certainly some truth to those thoughts, but it certainly hasn’t been my experience. Despite some obvious exceptions, I’d say it’s much more of leopard being stuck with their spots dynamic.

But back to our newest potential judge.

Three names have consistently come up in conversation, with one recently pulling away from the pack – KCSAO chief felony prosecutor Bill Engerman. Simply on its face, another white male prosecutor would be a poor choice, but when you consider the man himself, it becomes an exceptionally poor choice.

To be fair, I’ve learned that Engerman’s dismissal from the DeKalb State’s Attorney’s Office came in great part as a result of then State’s Attorney Clay Campbell’s jealousy over his ASAs favoring him for advice. We’ve all experienced bosses like that.

But that doesn’t mitigate the complaints from the women in that office, and it certainly doesn’t explain his need to regularly berate female Kane County prosecutors to the point where he earned the nickname “Angryman.” And I’ve heard those stories directly.

Furthermore, Engerman has never been anything but a prosecutor, and the biggest rap against him is it’s too easy to make him lose his cool in court, which doesn’t bode well for a judicial future.

But instead of beating them over the head this time, I’m simply going to ask our full circuit judges to not only to consider those obsolete “traditional qualifications,” but the candidates’ overall merit and what a truly representative judiciary should look like. Put more simply I’m asking them to make a wise and not expedient choice.

After all, there are a number of female attorneys who’ve earned that coveted “Highly Recommended” Kane County Bar Association endorsement!

As for the rest of us, while we love to focus on national politicians who have little local effect, we ignore judicial elections and appointments because they’re not nearly as fascinating. It’s clearly time for that to change.


4 thoughts on “Quick Hits – It’s time to pay attention to judicial appointments!

  1. Statistics are a funny thing, Jeff.

    Of the 28 applicants rated as Highly Qualifed or Qualified by the KCBA, 9 are female and (it appears) 3 are ethnic minorities. Of the 16 serving Associate Judges (the ones selected by the full Circuit Judges – the process you are commenting on in your article), 7 are female and 3 are ethnic minorities. A “hire” pool can only be as diverse as the applicant pool. So, if the current applicant pool is representative of the typical applicant pool, it looks like the Circuit Judges are selecting appointees with at least the same, if not slightly greater than, the ratio of female and ethnic minority applicants. Stated in numbers, 10 of 28 current applicants (35.7%) are female or ethnic minorities, and 8 of 16 (50%) of current Associate Judges are female or ethnic minorities.

    Contrast the foregoing with the current composition of the full Circuit Judges (the ones selected by voters, as opposed to being appointed by other judges). Of 14 current full Circuit Judges, only 2 are female, only 1 is an ethnic minority, and 1 is homosexual, equating to 28.6% minority composition among the full Circuit Judges.

  2. The associates are picked by the full circuits Very little public input. Full Circuits repaying favors. There is nothing more political than the judicial system. No one plays more games and looks to the future than those wanting to be a judge. And they all want to move up the food chain.
    As to diversity: just to throw it out there for comparison. DuPage has never had a Black judge I don’t recall any Hispanic and till the last election never in the history of DuPage was a Democrat elected for a judge
    And the way I heard the old maxim as to judg s ex public defenders were hard because they knew what liars their clients were and state attorneys easy because they knew what liars cops were.

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