Bad reviews, shaky mental health not expected to keep judge off bench
BY LISA DONOVAN Cook County Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org October 13, 2012 12:41AM
Cook County Judge Cynthia Brim, pictured here campaigning in 2006. | Brian jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: November 15, 2012 6:26AM
If history is any indication, a Cook County judge on indefinite suspension and deemed “legally insane” earlier this year will likely be re-elected next month.
Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Brim still collects her regular paycheck — $181,929 annually — seven months after her courthouse tussle with a sheriff’s deputy and her suspension from the bench for erratic behavior.
Despite the bad publicity and thumbs-down reviews of her work by fellow attorneys in many bar groups, voters will likely give her another six years on the bench.
That’s because it’s rare for a sitting circuit court judge to lose a re-election bid. It’s happened just once in 22 years.
After voters grab the ballot and weigh in on the premier races, just 65 percent of city and suburban voters move downballot to vote on the re-election or “retention” of sitting judges, according to Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office. This year, there are 57 Cook County Circuit Court judges, including Brim, up for retention.
“It’s virtually impossible for people — even lawyers practicing in court all the time — to know who’s worthy of being on the bench,” said David Morrison with the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “And when you have people focused on the presidential race, you don’t have people checking on who should be wearing the black robes.”
He explained: “With the retention vote, you’re just seeing a name and ‘yes’ or ‘no’ [on the ballot]. And most people vote yes.”
The only way a judge can lose is by receiving less than 60 percent of the overall “yes” votes.
That hasn’t happened since 1990, when John P. Tully lost his bid for retention as a circuit court judge in Cook County, while simultaneously winning a seat as a justice on the state’s appellate court. The Democrat had been charged with unethical conduct by the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board; he was later disciplined for using false information on campaign fliers.
Brim, now 54, is a graduate of Loyola University law school and was admitted to practice law in 1983, according to the state Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission. From 1984 to 1991, she worked for the city law department — first under Mayor Harold Washington and later under Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Worked for Roland Burris
She went on to work for then-Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris. In 1994, she won election to the first judicial subcircuit, a geographical area including the far South Side, according to county voting data.
A South Sider, Brim has long lived in the 8th Ward, where powerful committeeman and Cook County Board President John H. Stroger reigned until his death a few years ago.
But bar associations have consistently criticized her work on the bench. This month the Chicago Bar Association issued its judicial evaluations for the 50-plus judges running for retention, putting her and seven other judges under the “not recommended” category, as the association did in 2006 when she was up for re-election.
The Chicago Council of Lawyers also recently found her “not qualified” — as the council did six years earlier.
“Most respondents indicated a lack of confidence in her legal abilities,” the evaluation reads. It went on to state that even though her legal cases are “generally non-complex . . . her rulings are often described as unpredictable and delayed. . . . The consistently negative reports about Judge Brim’s judicial performance and her arrest at the courthouse at the Daley Center in downtown Chicago raise serious questions about whether she can remain effective on the bench.”
On March 9, Brim turned up at the downtown Chicago Daley Center courthouse — miles from the south suburban courthouse where she worked. She allegedly threw a set of keys and shoved a sheriff’s deputy before officers handcuffed her and took her to a basement holding cell.
She was charged with misdemeanor battery before being released. The next week, a panel of Cook County supervising judges suspended her indefinitely.
Court records obtained by the Sun-Times reveal she was examined by a court-appointed psychiatrist who believes she’s “presently mentally fit with medication” but opined she was “legally insane” at the time of the reported skirmish with the sheriff’s officer.
Brim has declined to talk with the Sun-Times on the record about the charges she’s facing or comment about reports that she had been behaving erratically the day before her arrest while ruling on traffic cases in the Markham courthouse.
Sources told the Sun-Times that Brim made comments during her call that were “racial in nature,” accusing South Holland police officers of ticketing only black and Hispanic drivers. She also accused south suburban police officers of conspiring to get her fired, a source said.
Another source said she recited her parents’ names, the address of her church and her license plate number and walked around the courtroom, complaining she had been run out of her last assignment.
Despite her past, Brim will nevertheless receive the full support of the Democratic Party in the upcoming election.
“The Democratic Party supports all Democratic judges running for retention and our literature will say ‘support’ and ‘vote yes’ for retention judges,” said Cook County party head Joe Berrios.
Asked whether Democrats had any reservations about her candidacy, Berrios said: “In the history of the Democratic Party, I can’t recall
us not supporting a Democratic judge for retention. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty — at least that’s the American way I was taught.”
The next hearing in her case is Nov. 7 — the day after the election.