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Dump incompetent judges

Updated: December 5, 2012 6:39AM

While reporters waited in federal court two weeks ago for the resumption of testimony in the lawsuit of the female bartender beaten on video by a Chicago Police officer, our attention was grabbed by a plainly agitated woman who came before Judge Amy St. Eve with a wild tale of persecution.

The woman insisted she was the target of some sort of vague secret court proceedings and wanted St. Eve to “unseal” the mystery cases.

“. . . My life is being ruined by these proceedings and this secrecy,” the woman said during a rambling, disjointed presentation. “They have invaded my life and locked me out of my life. And so many people know what’s been going on in these secret cases except me.”

St. Eve handled the professionally dressed woman respectfully but quickly brushed her off and sent her on her way, no doubt coming to the same conclusion as everybody else in the courtroom that she was a little unhinged.

I remember looking directly into the woman’s distraught face as she marched out afterward, visibly upset that she hadn’t been taken seriously.

What the rest of us didn’t realize until this week, however, is that the woman with the strange story wasn’t just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, mentally disturbed pro se litigant, so common to the court system.

As Sun-Times reporter Kim Janssen revealed in Friday’s paper, she was veteran Cook County Circuit Judge Susan McDunn.

What I find particularly interesting about this (aside from the fact it happened right under my nose with me being totally unaware of the significance) is that it proves once again that just because someone is paranoid doesn’t exclude the possibility that everyone really is out to get them.

In McDunn’s case, you see, lawyer groups and media organizations have been out to get her for a long time, attempting at regular intervals to have her kicked off the bench based on her record of incompetence.

Unfortunately, that requires cooperation from Cook County voters, who haven’t dumped a judge facing retention since 1990 — two years before McDunn was first elected — despite a plethora of unworthy candidates in the intervening years.

How fortunate then that we have an election coming up Tuesday at which we could try to remedy that.

We can’t get rid of McDunn, having missed your opportunities in 1998, 2004 and 2010. Court officials now say she has been on medical leave for “months.”

But there are three other sitting judges who all the major bar groups agree should be doing something else for a living, just as they had warned us about McDunn.

The three judges who they say deserve a “No” vote this year are Cynthia Brim, Gloria Chevere and Pamela Hill-Veal.

As I wrote once previously, there may be worse judges, but these are ones you have the best opportunity of sending into early retirement this year.

Actually, I wrote that in 2004, when I was among those pleading with voters to get rid of McDunn.

Brim has been this year’s poster child for wayward judges since being suspended in March after an altercation with a sheriff’s deputy that resulted in her arrest.

If that were Brim’s only problem, you might chalk it up to “he said, she said,” but the lawyer groups say there is a history of negative reports about her performance.

The nonpartisan Judicial Performance Commission said she’s often late to work and early to leave, her rulings described as “unpredictable and delayed,” and that attorneys find her “rude and unaccommodating.”

Such criticism sounds wimpy, I know, but these are lawyers. Things have to get pretty bad before they turn against a judge, and even then, they cling to lawyer-speak.

The stories are similar with Chevere and Hill-Veal.

Chevere was caught by the Better Govern­ment Association and Fox Chicago in 2010 sunbathing in her backyard in the middle of the workday. The Judicial Performance Commission suggested that might be typical of her work ethic. Those appearing in her courtroom questioned her “diligence and temperament” and her erratic rulings, the commission said.

Hill-Veal also has a reputation for her “unpleasant demeanor or a very short temper,” once resulting in her jailing a lawyer who corrected her in court. He happened to be right, an Appellate Court later ruled while admonishing her. She, too, is said to make a habit of being “annoyed, rude and angry.”

Before you end up in front of one of them, it might just be easier to say goodbye to Brim, Chevere and Hill-Veal, appearing soon on a retention ballot near you.

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