State Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke Angers Some with Judicial Pick

In what would normally be a routine midterm appointment of a vacant judicial seat has turned into a full-blown controversy for Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke that included protests.

Burke tapped Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s longtime policy advisor, Cara Smith, who is white woman to replace Judge Marianne Jackson who is black.

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Smith is a lawyer who also served as executive director of the Cook County Jail and worked for the Illinois Attorney General's office. But her appointment to fill 7th District sub-circuit, which includes the predominantly black community on Chicago's West Side, has drawn criticism from faith and community leaders and even the head of the City Council's black caucus, Ald. Jason Ervin.  

They believe Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke made a mistake.

“To me, it looks like they were looking not to appoint someone of color to this position,” Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) said at a press conference last week. “To say there are no qualified individuals on the West Side of Chicago to take this seat as a person dispensing justice on behalf of the citizens is a false narrative and I totally disagree with that.”

Ervin supported Pamela Reaves-Harris for the position. However, the Chicago Bar Association’s judicial evaluation committee gave Reaves-Harris a “not recommended” rating.

Justice Anne Burke explained her decision in a released statement.  

“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. Reaves-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,” Burke said in a statement.

“Cara LeFevour Smith was found “Qualified” by the Chicago Bar Association and “Highly Qualified” by my Judicial Screening Committee. Six Supreme Court Justices voted to appoint Cara LeFevour Smith to the 7th Judicial Cook County Subcircuit. Justice P. Scott Neville did not participate. Having qualified judges is in the best interests of public safety and promotes confidence in the justice system.”

Justice Burke is married to Chicago Ald. Ed Burke, who for decades served as the chair of the Cook County Democrats’ Judicial Slating Committee which handpicks judges for the party. But, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle replaced Ald. Burke with State Sen. Don Harmon after the alderman was indicted for corruption.

Smith was sworn in as a Cook County judge Monday but she will face an election in 2020 to keep her appointed judicial seat.

Joining us to talk about the judicial selection process are:

  • Kevin Forde, the chair of Justice Anne Burke's Judicial Selection Committee, who has worked on some high-profile cases. He represented Rahm Emanuel when his residency was challenged during the 2010 election. He also defended Philip Morris in a 2005 $10 billion judgment reversal. After law school, he went to work for Seymour Simon, a top antitrust lawyer and later an Illinois Supreme Court justice, who recruited Forde to work for him at the board.
  • David Erickson, a former Illinois appellate court justice was appointed to the bench and then lost his election. He's now the director of the trial advocacy program and co-director of the program in criminal litigation at Chicago-Kent College of Law.
  • David Melton, an attorney and the former executive director of Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that changed its name to Reform for Illinois. He serves as a senior advisor and board member of Reform for Illinois.
  • Jerrod Williams, president of the Cook County Bar Association, a leading organization for black attorneys. The CCBA helps members with clinics and forums in their pursuit to become judges.

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