New Chicago judge seeks to choose his own path

Like many organizations, court systems have deliberate processes for acculturating and training new members — a process sometimes referred to as “socialization.”  Forms of court socialization include formal processes like “baby judge” schools to provide training on opinion writing and docket management, as well as informal processes of acclimating new judges to the ins and outs of their jobs.

In Cook County, Illinois, part of the socialization and acclimation process involves assigning new judges to traffic court.  But Judge Richard Cooke, a former private practitioner who won an unopposed judicial election last November, rejected his traffic court assignment and apparently never reported for duty.  Judge Cooke claims a conflict of interest, alleging that he has financial stake in a car wash that cleans city-owned vehicles.  Other are not buying it:

Critics say the tempest is an illustration of all that’s wrong with selecting judges in Cook County — where cash and political connections at times carry more weight than temperament and ability. Daley Center judges say traffic court is the best place for a new judge to learn how to manage a courtroom, master a new area of law and do their job in a setting where the possible damage they can inflict is relatively minimal.

Former top federal prosecutor Carrie Hamilton, who helped prosecute ex-governor Rod Blagojevich, and former Winston & Strawn partner Raymond Mitchell both spent time in traffic court before moving into other assignments.

The court administration initially responded by assigning Judge Cooke only to conduct marriage ceremonies.  With the outcry continuing, however, this week the circuit court’s executive committee sent the issue to the state Judicial Inquiry Board.  This is the first step in a possible disciplinary action against Judge Cooke.  We will follow the story as it develops.

The judges among us — revisited

Yesterday, Judge Raymond Myles was shot and killed outside his home in Chicago’s Far South Side.  Police are still searching for a suspect and a motive, although it appears that his death may have simply been the result of attempted robbery.

We are attuned to stories of judges being threatened or attacked because of their profession.  And such threats, whether explicit or otherwise, are taken very seriously.  But this story, where it appears the victim just happened to be a judge, reminds us that members of the judiciary live among us.  When they take off their robes and leave the courthouse for the day, they are ordinary members of society with the same needs for food, clothing, security, and happiness as the rest of us.

Six years ago, after Judge John Roll was killed in the same Arizona shooting that terribly injured Gabby Giffords, I shared some similar thoughts.

My deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Judge Myles.