It might just seem like names at the end of the ballot.
But voting for judges in Cook County has serious consequences for everything from child custody disputes to how long someone might spend in prison.
So how should voters make educated decisions about the dozens of judges listed on the 2020 ballot?
To help, the nonprofit news organization Injustice Watch launched a guide last week for the November 2020 Cook County judicial elections.
The guide compiles profiles of each judge up for election, ratings from various legal organizations, and displays categories like “former public defender” and “former state’s attorney.”
“Our guide looks at the judge’s history: what did they do before they became a judge? We look at disciplinary records, judges who have been taken off the bench and put on administrative duty,” said Jonah Newman, an Injustice Watch editor. “So we take all that research and put it together and try to make it accessible so voters have the information they need to make their own decisions.”
Almost all of the judges on the 2020 ballot are Circuit Court judges, who serve six-year terms. They have to receive support from at least 60% of voters in their race to remain on the bench.
The guide also highlights “notable reversals” — a summary of a decision by a judge later reversed by a higher court. In its guide, Injustice Watch reports one judge in particular who had an extremely high number of reversals: Kenneth J. Wadas, a Circuit Court judge in the criminal division.
“Wadas has had his decisions reversed by the Illinois Appellate Court 25 times since 2014, more than any other criminal court judge running for retention this year,” the guide states. “The appeals court has reversed him for overly harsh sentences, violating the ‘one act, one crime’ doctrine, and assuming a prosecutorial role during trials.”
Judicial races are often low-profile affairs and tend to be skipped over or ignored by many voters. But Newman says the decisions by local judges can have a large impact on daily life of Cook County residents.
“We come into contact with judges in all kinds of ways, and they really do have an incredible amount of power over people’s lives, so it’s worth making an informed choice about which judges should stay on the bench and which shouldn’t,” Newman said.
More voter resources: 2020 Voter Guide to the General Election