Benchmark PAC bids farewell

Due to changed circumstances, the Benchmark PAC for Cook County Judges ceased operations at the end of 2018. This will be the last blog post from the PAC, but there is good news to consider.

The extent of the PAC’s impact on the 2018 elections is difficult to determine, but those of us who have worked over the course of decades to promote excellence on the Illinois judiciary can take heart from some of the 2018 results. Like: for the first time since 1992, Cook County voters knocked a sitting judge off the bench in the general election. Matthew Coghlan received only 36% positive ratings from the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening, and the media deserve credit for getting the word out.

The March 2018 primary ballot featured 39 judicial races. 23 of the Benchmark PAC’s picks were elected in November, and another five were appointed to the bench by Chief Judge Timothy P. Evans or the Illinois Supreme Court in 2018. In most of the eleven races where the Benchmark PAC’s recommended candidate did not win, we would be hard-pressed to object too strenuously to the seating of those sworn in in early December.

However, it bears noting that Democrat Shannon Phillip O’Malley won the Lawrence vacancy in the usually dependably Republican 13th subcircuit in Chicago’s northwest. Of particular interest is that Phillip Spiwak ran in the 13th subcircuit in 2010 as a Republican and lost, then changed his name to Shannon Phillip O’Malley in 2012. The real kicker: O’Malley apparently opted not to participate in evaluation by either the Alliance or the Chicago Bar Association in 2018 (y’all already know what I think of this), resulting in his being found not recommended by all twelve bar groups, yet he still beat a candidate who did the electorate the courtesy of participating. A candidate who can only receive 100% “not recommended” ratings because of too few years in practice can recover and gain positive ratings six years later as a retention candidate. It will be interesting to see how things go in 2024 for a candidate with 26 years of experience as a lawyer, but who chose in 2018 to leave the electorate in the dark about his qualifications.

As we noted in a March blog post, incumbents may have actually been burdened by being the Democratic Party-slated candidates in some subcircuit races. Maybe it’s time for so-called nonpartisan judicial elections in Illinois to become actually nonpartisan by having all candidates appear on all primary ballots.

Many thanks are owed to Benchmark PAC’s donors, partners, supporters, and friends. The Illinois justice system is largely in the hands of the people – let’s be sure to honor those who serve or appear in court by taking the vote seriously. Visit around election time for complete voter information from the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening.

—Susana Darwin, 4 January 2018

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