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Ald. Ervin appears to hand Justice Burke a win

Friday, Jun 14, 2019

* June 7th

Cara Smith, a veteran policy adviser to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and a registered attorney, has been named to serve as a county judge.

The Illinois Supreme Court appointed Smith to fill a vacant judgeship in the county’s seventh subcircuit, according to an order filed this week.

Smith will replace retiring Judge Marianne Jackson, who was appointed to the subcircuit post in 2014.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, the spouse of indicted Chicago Ald. Edward Burke, nominated Smith for the position.

* June 11th

Diversity concerns have prompted a battle over an appointment to a West Side judicial seat after Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke nominated a white attorney to fill a spot held by a retiring African American judge. […]

“We challenge Justice Anne Burke’s decision to replace Justice Marianne Jackson with someone who is not from our community,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch, New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, speaking to a group of community leaders from the west side gathered in the Austin community with concerns about judicial diversity. […]

“To find that she’s been replaced by someone that’s not from our community is a travesty, I think it’s a slap in the face to the residents of the West Side of Chicago,” said 28th Ward Alderman Jason Ervin. […]

“That basically says that there is no qualified African Americans on the West Side of Chicago that are able to take that seat, and I find that highly offensive,” [Ervin] said.

* Also June 11th

“We don’t know who she is, never seen her at any events on the West Side of Chicago and for her to be representing us as a judicial appointment is a slap in the face to residents of the West Side,” Ervin said. […]

“The subcircuit back in the 1990s was designed to bring more African-Americans and Latinos to the bench. And clearly, that person does not fit either one of those characteristics,” Ervin said.

Smith’s appointment runs through December 2020. Ald. Ervin is already vowing to challenge her with a candidate from the West Side who he supports in next year’s elections.

* Justice Burke sent out a rare press release yesterday

On Oct, 29, 2018, Ald. Jason Ervin came to my office and asked me to appoint Pamela Reaves- Harris to an upcoming 7th Subcircuit vacancy. I let Ald. Ervin know that Ms. Harris was welcome to apply and that she would need to be reviewed by my Judicial Selection Committee. […]

Pamela Reaves-Harris submitted an application which included an evaluation by The Chicago Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Committee. The evaluation, executed by then President Patricia Brown Holmes, found Ms. Harris to be “Not Recommended” for the office of Circuit Court Judge and stated, in part, that while Ms. Harris was “a dedicated, busy and hardworking public servant,” her “limited practice and court experience would make it difficult for her to effectively serve as a Circuit Court Judge.” My Judicial Selection Committee similarly concluded that Ms. Reaves-Harris was not a qualified candidate. Cara LeFevour Smith was found “Highly Qualified” by both the Chicago Bar Association and my Judicial Screening Committee. The Supreme Court unanimously voted to appointment Cara LeFevour Smith to the 7th Subcircuit vacancy.

Having qualified judges is in the best interests of public safety and promotes confidence in the justice system.

* Background on Reaves-Harris

Derrick Smith was appointed to a vacancy in the Illinois House of Representatives in March 2011. In March 2012, just a week before the Democratic primary, Smith was arrested on federal charges. An informant caught Smith on tape accepting a $7,000 bribe to promote a grant to a day care center. On tape, Rep. Smith can be overheard telling the man passing the money to just ‘leave it in the envelope.’ […]

Well, Smith won the primary with Democratic Party support (he was running against a one-time Republican operative for the Democratic nomination), but got booted out of the House thereafter. Despite his expulsion, Smith stayed on the ballot, beating a “Unity Party” candidate who was recruited and endorsed by the Democratic Party in Smith’s stead.

Smith could not be expelled from the House a second time for the same offense — and his case hadn’t gone to trial by the time the 2014 primary rolled around. So the party put up Pamela Reaves-Harris to oppose him. She won. (Smith was convicted in June 2014.)

Reaves-Harris did not run for reelection. As a result, Melissa Conyears-Ervin, the wife of Ald. Jason Ervin, wound up unopposed in the Democratic Primary and won that seat, holding it until her recent election as City Treasurer.

Ald. Ervin raises some valid questions about diversity. But he should’ve backed a more qualified candidate so as not to give Justice Burke such an easy way out.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

11 Comments
  1. - Sonny - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 12:05 pm:

    Appointing a white prison warden who is politically connected to the nth degree in an African American subcircuit is the level of tone deafness I would expect from the Burkes and I welcome its (their) pending departure from the political landscape. Keeping a low profile while your spouse implodes, brings shame upon his city and legacy and destroys peoples’ careers via his unrestrained avarice might even be advisable.


  2. - Steve Rogers - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 12:39 pm:

    Looks like Justice Burke did exactly the right thing. This would be a nothing-burger if her husband hadn’t been indicted.


  3. - Grand Avenue - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 12:45 pm:

    It’s much ado about nothing. This is not a lifetime appointment - there’s going to be a primary in March. If the local elected officials don’t like the appointment they can run their own candidate and the voters will decide.

    In 2016, Pat Spratt, who is white, was appointed to a 7th Subcircuit vacancy. The committeemen endorsed a black candidate, Jennifer Ballard. The voters voted for Spratt.


  4. - West Side the Best Side - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 12:52 pm:

    Since I’m not Jack Leyhane I’m not tooting my own horn to suggest checking out his blog “For What It’s Worth.” He has some comments on the 7th Subcircuit, including how the demographics have changed since the first election in 1992. Until this year there has been no provision for redrawing subcurcuit boundaries, which, even if they have not changed demographically, have certainly changed in population. Also, a couple other comments. While people chosen from a subcircuit may, as was the original intent, be representative of the population of the subcircuit, whether politically or ethnically, they do not represent the subcircuit. Judges are not lawmakers voting their constituents’ interests, they are (ideally) neutral arbiters following the law. Secondly, while it is Justice Byrne’s pick, generally trial lawyers make better trial judges than do people who were administrators who happen to hold a law degree.


  5. - Amalia - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:02 pm:

    oh, Jason. why give the Burke family such a gimme. cause it gives them cover for the ridiculous appointment. sad.


  6. - Ridicudlous - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:15 pm:

    Cara Smith was the public access counselor, no?


  7. - West Side the Best Side - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:18 pm:

    “Burke,” not ” Byrne. ” Guess, like Mayor Lightfoot, autocorrect wants Burke out.


  8. - Ron Burgundy - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:28 pm:

    Those bar association reviews are no joke. They review backgrounds extensively and talk to dozens of references and opposing attorneys. They probably have a better track record of keeping unqualified mopes off the bench through the appointment process than the ballot box, because the appointing justice’s reputation is on the hook if they screw up. Here, why appoint someone that the bar thinks doesn’t have the right experience when a highly qualified alternative is right there? Bottom line is, while connections still get people far, It doesn’t hurt to try some cases either.


  9. - Just another Anon - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:42 pm:

    Ridicudlous - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 1:15 pm:

    Cara Smith was the public access counselor, no?

    You are thinking of Sarah Pratt, I believe.


  10. - Telly - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 2:45 pm:

    Looks like Justice Burke upset the alderman’s dealmaking.

    And as @westside mentioned above, that district has change quite a bit since it was drawn more than 25 years ago. Lots more white folks on the eastern side of it near downtown and a big expansion of Hispanic population in both the city and suburban portions of the sub-circuit. At least two full wards worth of African-American population has moved out.


  11. - Ridgelander - Friday, Jun 14, 19 @ 3:18 pm:

    Cara Smith was the public access counselor, no?
    You are thinking of Sarah Pratt, I believe.

    Cara Smith preceded Sarah Pratt in the position of PAC, before she joined Sheriff Dart’s Office.

    https://chicago.suntimes.com/2018/10/16/18442999/stop-forcing-people-to-battle-their-own-government-for-access-to-public-records


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