Anyone who has fought a traffic ticket, been sued or has been divorced, knows what it’s like to stand before a judge. Not all judges are elected by voters.
The state constitution gives voters the responsibility of electing circuit, appellate and Supreme Court judges. But it also gives the seven Supreme Court justices the power to appoint some judges.
This year, the Chicago Tribune has peeled back some of the mystery on how judges get their positions in Cook County.
In its latest story, published Tuesday, the Tribune found that the Illinois Supreme Court may have violated the state’s constitution when it appointed Cynthia Cobbs to fill a vacancy on the Cook County bench even though she lives in Frankfort, a town in Will County.
Cobbs was a longtime law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Charles Freeman and was the director of the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts, a position that required her to work closely with Illinois chief justices over the years.
Cobbs presides over traffic cases in the Daley Center downtown. She has declined to comment about her appointment.
A day after the Tribune inquired about her appointment, Cobbs’ house was listed for sale.
In an August story, the Tribune reported that since 2000, the Supreme Court has reappointed 18 judges to the Cook County bench after they were defeated at the polls, including 13 currently hearing cases. Critics said the practice subverts the will of the voters and may violate the constitution.
The Supreme Court has said it stopped the practice earlier this year.
In another look at the judicial system in April, the Tribune revealed the role played by political clout in the selection of Cook County’s associate judges. Those judges are chosen by full circuit court judges in a secret ballot meant, in part, to remove politics from the process.
The Tribune found that having the blessing of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan increased a candidate’s likelihood of becoming a judge. Here's the series of stories that resulted from that.
Madigan for years sent letters to voting judges in which he listed the names of lawyers he was supporting, letters that have become known as “Madigan’s List.”
-- Todd Lighty
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