In recent years, confidence in the judiciary has been under attack for many reasons: a lack of diversity, the promotion of connections over qualifications, and the selection of judiciary for superficial reasons. Chief Judge Timothy Evans has made tremendous strides in supporting diversity and inclusion initiatives in the legal community. The most recent 2018 short list (for 17 Associate judgeship openings in Cook County Circuit Court) reflected not only diversity but the promotion of highly qualified persons. The 34-person “short list” included men and women coming from different ethnic backgrounds, sexual preferences, state and federal practice, private and public sectors as well as trial lawyers and judges. The fact that none of the 10 African American candidates from the short list were selected, is deeply concerning. The final list does include the first Korean-American judge, and a Hispanic woman judge, which are both positive inclusions to the list. Perhaps it is understandable that the judges selected several of their previously appointed colleagues to retain their judicial positions.
What is surprising is that none of the African American women candidates were selected by the Cook County judiciary for one of the 17 positions. The list included a sitting judge, the former president of The Cook County Bar Association and the former president of The Black Women Lawyer’s Association of Greater Chicago, Inc. Unlike general elections, this process is totally within the control of the judges, who presumably want strong qualified judges who will uplift the reputation of the judiciary, by voting based on demeanor and qualifications first and not some other superficial connection. These are the “voters” who know what the job is and what it takes to do the job.
The Associate Judge selection should reflect the diversity of the constituency in Chicago and the current list fails in that regard – glaringly omitting the black women lawyers and judges who have served this community, some for over 20 years. The Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater Chicago, Inc. works tirelessly to support black women lawyers and judges and increase diversity in the legal community. In line with our mission, we carefully selected and referred every short list black woman attorney and judge for final selection to all of the Cook County Judges. To know that black women lawyers did not receive enough votes to garner even one of the 17 available spots suggests to the community that black women lawyers are not an intricate thread in the fabric of our justice system.
The Associate Judge process has been commended as an example of the preferred method to select highly qualified judges as opposed to electing judges. Recent Associate Judge selections indicate that high qualifications do not ensure fair consideration even among a voting block as knowledgeable as the Cook County Judges themselves. The fact that such a selection is done without the public’s knowledge cannot be countenanced.
Black Women Lawyers Association of Greater Chicago, Inc.
May 24, 2018