Updated Wed., Nov. 4 at 10:25 a.m.
CHICAGO — Every Cook County judge running for retention appeared set to keep their seat on the bench, with nearly all precincts reporting in Chicago and suburban Cook County on Wednesday morning.
Only one judge, Mauricio Araujo, failed to garner the required 60% “yes” votes to keep his seat. But he had already resigned in October after a disciplinary panel found “clear and convincing” evidence that he had harassed women while on the job. Just about half of Cook County voters chose to retain Araujo, whose name remained on the ballot despite his resignation.
In the most-watched judicial race this year, Judge Michael Toomin, a 40-year veteran of the bench who presides over the court’s juvenile justice division, appeared likely to keep his seat with 62% “yes” votes as of 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, with more than 97% of precincts reporting.
Toomin garnered stronger support in suburban Cook County, where he received 64% “yes” votes, compared to 60% in Chicago.
In September, the Cook County Democratic Party opted not to endorse Toomin or Araujo, and sent election materials to voters telling them to vote against their retention. Toomin’s supporters have said the move was political retribution for his decision to appoint special prosecutor Dan K. Webb in the case against former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett. They alleged that put him at odds with Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her close ally, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who also chairs the party committee.
(Foxx declared victory Tuesday night over her Republican challenger Pat O’Brien.)
The Judicial Accountability PAC, a group of attorneys and former judges, also rallied against Toomin, along with activists who argued he has opposed juvenile justice reforms and treated youth harshly in his courtroom, especially during the pandemic as many sought emergency release from detention.
In his corner, Toomin had Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who was the featured guest at a virtual fundraiser for him last month. Lightfoot defended her decision to stand behind Toomin as North Side activist Mary Difino questioned her on Tuesday. “I’m happy to endorse Judge Toomin because he’s a good judge,” Lightfoot said in an exchange Difino posted on Twitter.
Hanah Jubeh, a spokesperson for the political action committee that supported 59 of the 60 judges actively seeking retention, celebrated the results in a statement to Injustice Watch on Tuesday night.
“Judges are called upon every day to make difficult decisions. It’s dangerous when politicians choose to distort their records to influence an election. Today, the voters spoke, and they resoundingly chose to maintain an independent judiciary free from political influence,” Jubeh said.
Three judges other than Toomin also appeared to narrowly win their retention races, garnering less than 65% of the vote: Jackie Portman-Brown, John Mahoney, and Patricia Martin, who has announced plans to retire before the next judicial term starts on Dec. 7.
In 2018, just one judge won retention with less than 65% of the vote. That year, Matthew Coghlan also became the first Cook County judge to lose a retention bid since 1990, when seven judges lost their seats.
Brendan Shiller, the Judicial Accountability PAC’s board president, said he was disappointed in Tuesday’s results. But he said the high number of judges that didn’t cross 65% “yes” votes this election signified growing public interest in judicial contests.
“I wish Toomin had lost. But I’m happy he was held accountable and forced to fight tooth and nail to hang on,” he said. “I think the trend is still going in a manner where we can expect these races to be real races.”
There were just two contested races in north suburban subcircuits for open seats on the Cook County Circuit Court. In the 12th subcircuit, unofficial results showed Republican Frank DiFranco beating Democrat Patricia Fallon by a margin of 54 to 45. In the 13th subcircuit, the race between Democrat Susanne Groebner and Republican Gary Seyring – a rematch of the 2018 Republican primary – remained too close to call on Wednesday.