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.