Judging the Judges: Your honor, where do you live?

In March, voters will be selecting Cook County judges from a long list of candidates. So, we asked some voters at a train station in Glenview and a nearby barber shop if they knew any of the judicial candidates running in the 12th subcircuit and none did.

You can read all about one of the candidates, Judge James Kaplan, on his campaign web site. He’s dressed in judicial robes and stands shoulder to shoulder with his wife.  In big, bold, red letters he advertises a life-time of service to “our community,” the 12th judicial subcircuit.

Yet an investigation by WGN Investigates and the Medill Watchdog at Northwestern found the judge spent much of his life living in Lake County.  Two decades in a house in Lincolnshire which the judge still owns there. He only rented a place in the 12th subcircuit a couple of years ago when he was appointed judge by the Illinois Supreme Court. However, you would never guess that by his campaign literature.

“Judges are subject to the rules that bind us all,” according to Jamelle Sharpe a law professor at the University of Illinois College of Law.  He added, “The spirit of the law is that people are part of the communities in which they are judging. There is a specific legal requirement that indicates whether or not that person is part of the community and that’s the residency requirement.”

Just like Congressional representatives, judges running for election in a subcircuit must live in the same area as the voter. Leave it to a judge though to find a grey area in the law. Some judges, like Kaplan, keep two homes, one in Lake County where his wife and son continue to live and a rental in the 12th subcircuit of Cook County.

Judge Kaplan told us he’s doing this because he loves being a judge and insists he’s  within the law. During our conversation, however, the judge slipped calling Lincolnshire his home.  He quickly corrected himself calling it his other home. He added that where he lived is none of our business.

According to Sharpe, “It’s when the interpretation of the law looks strange – the interpretation of the facts look odd and the courts come to a conclusion that confidence in the decision to be eroded and hence the power of the judiciary become eroded.”

We wanted to ask the Illinois Supreme Court about its appointment of Judge James Kaplan, but a spokesman declined to comment. It’s an important question because the Court appointed Kaplan twice. Each time Kaplan packed his bags and rented an apartment in a different Cook County subcircuit.

Sharpe says, “You can’t prevent somebody from undertaking the position if they comply with the letter but you don’t have to choose them if you don’t think they are complying with the spirit.”

That leaves Kaplan to beat Samuel Bae, running for the first time and James Hanlon Jr, who votes as a Democrat some of the time and a Republican other times. Also running is Ralph Meczyk. He’s one of the attorneys who represented convicted police officer Drew Peterson. Meczyk decades ago was caught up in a federal investigation. He pled guilty to income tax charges, but later won a pardon from former President Clinton.

So voters in the 12th subcircuit, come March, those are your choices if you choose to vote.

5 comments

  • ERD

    It is interesting that Judge Kaplan is admonished for doing this when King Rahm Emanuel was able to become mayor of Chicago without living in Chicago. Very Interesting!!!!

  • Larry Rizzo

    How can one rule and order when he or she does not obey the residency law to be a Cook County Supreme Court Judge. It is saying that you can work for the city and not own property in Cook County, and instead Rent??? I guess just like ERD commented Emanuel became Mayor because his wife's WEDDING Gown was left in the basement of a home he owned but was NOT-RESIDING in!!!! Funny how these people think that they are above the law and can rent a home even though they are from Lake County, and leave a wedding gown in a basement for yrs. purposely, saying that you live there knowing that you were going to run for mayor!!!!

  • Daniel Kaplan

    Dear Mr. Suppelsa,

    I appreciate your focus on the Cook County judicial system, it is an indispensable part of law and order. No one I know cares more about the integrity of that system than my dad, James Kaplan. He has lived in both Cook County and Lake County for nearly his whole life (he went to college in Arizona and worked for 2 years in St. Louis before returning to Chicago to complete law school) and worked as a lawyer in Chicago and as a civil servant in Springfield for decades as well. I'm not sure why you spent eight paragraphs implying something sinister about the fact that my dad has rented apartments in Chicago and Glenview, apparently this merits more scrutiny than being placed under federal investigation in your eyes. Are you worried that my dad will 'sell out' Cook County to the 'evil' Lake County as some sort of 'Manchurian Candidate?'

    In our conversations, he tells me about the work he does in his courtroom to bring stability to families and children. I know the pride he has when is able to successfully intervene in an unstable home situation, and the anguish he feels when even his best attempts fail. Why don't you spend some time actually analyzing the content of the rulings my father makes? I suspect because it wouldn't result in salacious headlines and would be a lot more work than articles like this that merely insinuate impropriety without proving any true malfeasance. I applaud your efforts to elevate the importance of the judicial system among your viewers and readers, but I think you are going about it all wrong.

    Sincerely,
    Daniel M. Kaplan

  • Larry Rizzo

    Mr. Suppelsa, why don't Chicago news investigator people like yourself investigate where retirees pension fund monies have gone?? RETIREES ARE TAX PAYERS JUST LIKE ANYONE ELSE??

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