With embattled Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez soon out the door after losing the March Democratic primary to Kim Foxx, Alvarez’s top deputy, Daniel Kirk, is finding rough going in his quest to be appointed a Cook County judge.
Not only was he bypassed in a recent round of 13 associate judge appointments made by sitting circuit judges, but he also lost a “recommended” rating he’d been given by a bar group.
The Cook County Bar Association — among the lawyers’ groups that gauge the suitability of candidates for the bench — took the unusual step of rescinding its positive rating of Kirk.
Last year, it found Kirk “recommended” for judge. But now it’s changed its assessment of Alvarez’s first assistant state’s attorney to “not recommended.” Its top designation is “highly recommended.”
The bar group is largely comprised of black lawyers in the Chicago area.
Alvarez has come under fire for her agency’s handling of excessive-force cases involving police officers and for not filing charges sooner in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old, by a white Chicago cop who was charged with first-degree murder only after a video of the shooting was ordered released.
Arlene Coleman, president of the Cook County Bar Association, would say only that the group reconsidered its rating after “there were concerns” expressed by her group’s judicial evaluation committee about Kirk, who also has served as Alvarez’s chief of staff and campaign chairman.
“I’m not going to say what all those concerns were,” Coleman says. “I don’t think we have to give a reason why. We have a right to change our minds.”
She says the about-face was unusual and that Kirk has appealed the “not recommended” label.
The bar association board — which includes two Cook County prosecutors, several sitting or retired judges and political and governmental figures including Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Larry Rogers Jr. — will soon consider his appeal, Coleman says.
Kirk says he hasn’t been told what the concerns about him are.
He’s submitting letters of support with his appeal, including one from the incoming president of the Cook County Bar Association, Natalie Howse, who is a current board member and works as an assistant state’s attorney under Kirk.
Kirk says that, like the bar group, he is committed to diversity and “anti-bias.”
He says he doesn’t know why he was bypassed for an appointment as an associate judge but says there were many excellent candidates.
Kirk was one of more than 280 people who applied last year for associate judge, which pays $181,220 a year.
A panel consisting of Chief Cook County Judge Timothy Evans and eight presiding judges interviewed applicants, reviewed work histories and checked ratings from bar groups. Just after the primary, the panel announced a “short list” of 26 candidates for 13 slots in an election in which nearly 250 sitting circuit judges were eligible to vote.
“The majority had excellent credentials,” Cook County Circuit Judge Marjorie Laws, a member of Evans’ panel, says of the applicants, declining to discuss the nominating process, saying it’s confidential.
Coleman says her group rescinded Kirk’s rating after the short list came out.
Evans wouldn’t comment.
All 26 short-listed applicants got “positive ratings from the bar associations,” according to an announcement from Evans’ office.
He wouldn’t release bar group evaluations for other applicants, who were vetted by a dozen lawyers’ organizations.
Others who didn’t make the short list included: Mary Melchor, the inspector general for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, whose agency is being investigated by the FBI for alleged job-selling, and Alexander Vroustouris, who was former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s first inspector general.
Kirk has other options to get on the bench. He can seek election as a judge, wait for other associate judge openings and reapply or seek an appointment through the Illinois Supreme Court to fill an opening.
Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis is in the process of helping fill two Cook County judge vacancies, but court officials won’t say whether Kirk has applied or is under consideration.
Kirk won’t say, either, saying that process is confidential.
Source: Chicago SunTimes