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Berrios denies election ‘payback’ after judge rules against daughter

Appellate Justice Rudy Garcia.

Appellate Justice Rudy Garcia.

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Updated: December 23, 2011 8:04AM

Appellate Justice Rodolfo “Rudy” Garcia accuses Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Berrios of stacking the deck against him in next year’s election for appellate court.

Garcia said Berrios sent a message through an intermediary seven years ago that he wanted Garcia to rule a certain way in a case involving Berrios’ daughter. Garcia ruled the other way. Last month, the party endorsed Judge Jesse Reyes over Garcia for the appellate court.

Garcia calls that “payback” from Berrios.

Berrios, the Cook County Assessor, calls Garcia’s accusation “ridiculous.” Reyes worked harder than Garcia to win the party’s endorsement, Berrios said.

“If he’d have gotten off his fat ass, he could have gotten” the endorsement, Berrios said of Garcia.

Seven years ago, Felix Cardona, a Berrios loyalist, challenged the nominating petitions of Pedro de Jesus, Jr., who was running against state Rep. Toni Berrios (D-Chicago), Berrios’ daughter.

A lower court judge threw out the challenge. The case was appealed to the appellate court, where Garcia serves by appointment.

“A mutual friend, somebody who used to work for Joe Berrios, somebody who would go drinking with him, someone who introduced me to Joe Berrios — he mentions to me that there was an appeal coming before my panel that involved Joe Berrios’ daughter,” Garcia said. “She wasn’t named, but she was the representative for the district. They were trying to knock off her opponent to save them the cost of running a campaign.”

On the day of oral argument, Garcia said he was surprised to see Joe Berrios in the courtroom.

“He came to oral argument and was trying to make eye contact with me,” Garcia said.

“I sat way in the back — I just wanted to listen to the arguments,” Berrios said.

Berrios’ first assistant commissioner at the Cook County Board of Review, Tom Jaconetty, was one of the lawyers arguing to oust de Jesus from the ballot.

Garcia wrote the unanimous three-judge opinion leaving de Jesus on the ballot. Toni Berrios won anyway, but, “Later on, I was told Joe was going to get payback,” Garcia said.

Berrios denied the accusation,

“Who am I going to send a message to an appellate court justice with? That’s ridiculous,” Berrios said. “He was one vote out of three. It was a unanimous vote. We go to court on petition challenges all the time. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. If we thought they were all completely wrong, we would have appealed it.”

Garcia is adamant.

“Judges rule on inferences,” Garcia said. “The established facts are these: I got word ahead of time that this case involved Joe Berrios, and he had an interest. We ruled the other way. I heard later on that Joe Berrios was out to get me. All those facts are un-refuted. This was the only way for him to get back at me. The only answer I have is: It was payback.”

Berrios offers an alternate explanation: Jesse Reyes worked harder than Garcia at getting party slating.

Since he was a counsel for the Chicago Public Schools, Reyes has been a familiar face at party fund-raisers and community forums, shaking hands with committeemen and elected officials every night of the week.

Garcia has not campaigned that way. Garcia, a University of Chicago Law School graduate, has some of Cook County’s top lawyers and judges supporting him, including former state Supreme Court justices Thomas Fitzgerald, Ben Miller and Mary Ann McMorrow.

But Reyes, a John Marshall Law School graduate, had the support of the party committeemen who decide who gets slated.

“Jesse went around to the entire black caucus. He went to the ethnic caucus. He worked his tail off when he ran and was elected,” Berrios said. “He goes everywhere. He works it. Rudy didn’t work. He called one committeeman. If he’d have gotten off his fat ass, he could have gotten it.”

Garcia said he wrote to all 80 committeemen and had support from Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), Dick Mell (33rd) and Edward Burke (14th), who helped Garcia win his seat on the bench unopposed in 1996.

But Garcia said the other committeemen deferred to the Hispanic committeemen, led by Berrios, who made clear the preference for Reyes.

“Jesse Reyes has been a very helpful resource to the suburbs, making himself available to committeeman who could do nothing for him,” said state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), who led suburban committeemen backing Reyes.

When committeemen met last month, Garcia told them his eight years on the appellate court meant he would need no on-the-job training. Reyes thanked committeemen for their support in previous races, mentioned his colleagues elected him president of the Illinois Judges Association, and said, “I am a team player.”

The committeemen slated four of the five judges sitting by appointment on the appellate court — but not Garcia.

Both men will run for the seat in the March 20 Democratic primary election. Reyes will have the support of the party. Garcia will have the support of some lawyers and judges, as will Reyes. They may split the Hispanic vote. Both men are rated “qualified” or “recommended” by the bar associations. If either loses, he still has a seat on the circuit court.

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