By Andrew Adams
Voters this year will choose a justice for the Illinois Supreme Court’s 1st District, which is composed solely of Cook County.
The seat became vacant when Justice Charles Freeman retired in 2018. The court appointed P. Scott Neville Jr. on an interim basis, and his term will expire after the 2020 election. Neville is one of seven candidates now running for election in the Democratic primary.
The March 17 Democratic primary winner will move forward onto the November ballot. The winner in November will earn a ten-year term on the court.
Cynthia Y. Cobbs is the first lawyer and judge in her family. After studying clinical social work and earning a master’s degree in the subject, Cobbs studied law at the Illinois Institute of Technology-Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Since then, Cobbs noted, “I’ve worked at every level of the court system.” Cobbs clerked for Supreme Court Justice Freeman in the 1990s. She also has served as a Circuit Court judge, overseeing traffic court and small claims. She currently sits as an Illinois Appellate Court judge in the Third Division, First District. Cobbs also served as director of the Illinois Courts, one of the highest administrative positions in the Illinois court system. The director manages and coordinates communication with court stakeholders and State officials and agencies on matters affecting Illinois Courts and the justice system.
Besides its judicial aspects, the Supreme Court and its justices administer and make policy for Illinois’s entire court system. When asked about her goals for this aspect of the post, Cobbs focused on access, saying, “For many, the legal system is foreign. I would want to go back to a time when I was State court administrator and find resources,” particularly resources to aid child welfare assessment practices.
If elected, Cobbs would be the first African-American woman and the first woman of color on the Supreme Court.
For more information, go to Cobbs’s campaign website: https://justicecobbs.org.
Daniel Epstein has worked for Jenner & Block, a Chicago-based law firm with a reputation for pro bono work. The American Lawyer, a monthly legal magazine that conducts annual surveys, ranked the firm first for pro bono services for ten of the past 20 years. When asked what he did at the firm, Epstein said, “I was serving clients at the Supreme Court.”
Epstein’s campaign focuses on progressive reform. “I think it boils down to vision, independence and vision,” he said of his campaign. “The fairest, wisest judge can’t find justice in an unfair system.” Epstein central issues include addressing “perverse financial incentives,” preventing “corruption and conflicts of interest,” and addressing “race, gender, and anti-LGBTQ bias.”
Several left-leaning and progressive organizations have endorsed Epstein, including Our Revolution, a political action committee aligned with Senator Bernie Sanders and Personal PAC, an organization that advocates for abortion rights. (Personal PAC also has endorsed Nathaniel Howse, Margaret Stanton McBride, and Jesse G. Reyes in this race.) Run for Something, a civic organization that enlists young, progressive candidates, also has been involved in Epstein’s campaign.
For more information, go to www.epsteinforsupremecourt.com or call (224) 714-2184.
Shelly Harris serves as a judge on the Illinois Appellate Court in the 1st District, a role he has filled since his appointment in 2010 and subsequent election in 2014. Previously, he worked for ten years as a Circuit Court judge and before that worked in his own practice, focusing on divorce and domestic relations matters before transitioning to trial law and personal injury, medical malpractice, and corporate disputes.
His campaign focuses on common sense, fairness, and equality. His website reviews his past decisions and cites cases concerning concealed carry permit enforcement, citizens’ rights regarding lead in City of Chicago water, and procedural issues.
While studying to become a lawyer, Harris worked as an eighth grade special education teacher in the Chicago Public School system.
Harris could not be reached for comment despite multiple attempts to contact him and his campaign. For more information, go to www.harrisforjustice.com.
Nathaniel Howse Jr. has worked for 43 years as a lawyer and judge in Illinois. He earned under-graduate and law degrees from Loyola University Chicago.
In private practice, Howse represented clients before the Illinois Circuit, Appellate, and Supreme Courts in addition to the Federal District Court and Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. “I focused primarily on election law,” Howse said in an interview. Howse represented the Harold Washington Party as its lead attorney in the late 1980s and 1990s.
As a judge in the 1st District Appellate Court, a role he has filled since 2009, Howse implemented reforms aimed at speeding judicial decisions, which he noted resulted in a drop in pending cases. Howse said, “I lead by example, too. I’ve led the entire court for the past four years with zero cases in my backlog.” He said he would focus on that issue in his role administering the courts.
Regarding a Supreme Court justice’s role in hearing cases, Howse believes his perspective is vital for a jurist. “I was born in the Jim Crow South,” he said. “I remember what it felt like to feel less than” others. Howse “learned by example what a work ethic is” from his father, who earned a law degree by taking night classes when Howse was a young man, a fact he cited as part of his inspiration to become a lawyer.
Howse has won endorsement by several prominent political leaders including longtime Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who represents the 9th District. Six Chicago aldermen, mostly from the South Side, and a coalition of more than 100 Chicago clergy also have endorsed Howse.
For more information, go to www.justicehowse.com or email email@example.com.
When attending law school at DePaul University, Margaret Stanton McBride decided she wanted to be a judge. “I planned a path for that course and spent my early professional years as a prosecutor trying criminal cases,” she said. After serving as Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney, McBride won a Circuit Court judicial appointment, followed by election to the court three years later, in 1990.
McBride said, “I am running for this office based upon my qualifications and experience, as I have always done.”
Over the years, McBride has received awards from the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, Celtic Legal Society of Chicago, Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, and Appellate Lawyers Association.
McBride’s administrative goals include continuing efforts by the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission. Formed from a 2012 court initiative, the commission is charged with “promoting, facilitating, and enhancing equal access to justice with an emphasis on access to the Illinois civil courts and administrative agencies.”
“I would also create a committee to make judicial appointments,” McBride added. “The appointment process would be open and transparent.”
McBride noted information as a major hurdle for all candidates in this race. Due to the Code of Judicial Conduct’s ethics restrictions, judges may not discuss how they would rule on cases they might hear. McBride said, “I urge all of the voters to learn about the candidates and their qualifications, experience, and background.”
For more information, go to https://mcbrideforsupremecourt.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
After Justice Charles Freeman, the first African-American justice in the court’s history, retired in June 2018, the court exercised its constitutional authority to appoint justices on an interim basis and elevated P. Scott Neville to the court.
Before his time on the Supreme Court, Neville served on lower courts in Illinois as an elected Appellate Court judge and an appointed Circuit Court judge. He also has been active in the legal community though work with various bar associations, including a stint as president of the Cook County Bar Association and co-founder of the Alliance of Bar Associations. Neville worked in private practice from 1977 to 1999, including as principal alongside Nathanial Howse, another Supreme Court candidate, during the 1990s.
Neville is the sole candidate endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party. His election committee holds several prominent elected officials including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Michael Madigan. U.S. Congressmen Bobby Rush and Danny Davis also have endorsed Neville.
Neville’s campaign has seen controversy surrounding a homeowner’s tax exemption on a property in which Neville does not live.
Neville could not be reached for comment. For more information go to https://nevilleforjustice.com.
Jesse G. Reyes began his legal career at a firm specializing in personal injury and workers’ compensation cases, after which he worked for several years with various governmental offices, first in the legal departments of the City of Chicago and then with the Chicago Board of Education, where he instituted a hearing process for expulsion cases. He has tried cases at the State and Federal levels.
Reyes currently serves as an elected judge of the Illinois Appellate Court, a role he has filled since 2012. He has 15 years of previous experience on the Circuit Court.
He also gained administrative experience from his time on the lower courts, previously serving as presiding judge of the Fifth Division to supervise an administrative staff and coordinate several Circuit Court judges’ offices.
If elected, he will focus on three areas of administrative reform. “We have a lack of access to justice, we have a lack of transparency, and we also have a lack of diversity on the court,” Reyes said, noting he will create commissions and committees with legal and lay experts to address those issues.
Reyes wants to make the judicial system more accountable to the public, and he views his role in community organizations as a plus. “I’m always out in the community,” he said. “As judges, we ought to be held accountable.”
His career counts many firsts: the first Latino Appellate Court judge, Latino president of the Illinois Judges Association, and Latino to win a county-wide judicial election in Cook County. If elected, Reyes would be the court’s only Latino member.
Reyes grew up in Pilsen and Bridgeport and graduated from both the University of Illinois at Chicago and John Marshall Law School (now part of UIC).
For more information, go to http://justicereyes.com.