On Tuesday, Judge Brim won re-election to the Cook County Circuit Court. The following day, she showed up in court — not as a judge, but as a defendant in a battery case.
You might be surprised by how much of the vote she won. Take a guess, then keep reading to find out (and to see Her Honor’s mugshot, which isn’t pretty)….
Here’s a report on Judge Brim from the Chicago Tribune:
Judge Cynthia Brim, 54, whose 18-year tenure has been marked by controversy, told reporters as she left a criminal courtroom Wednesday at 26th and California that she was pleased by the election results, which she watched at home Tuesday night.
“I’m just happy the people voted me back in,” said Brim, who was suspended from her $182,000-a-year job in March after a wild week in which she was removed from her Markham courtroom after launching into a rambling 45-minute tirade and then, a day later, was charged with shoving a deputy at the Daley Center.
Soon after being charged with misdemeanor battery, a panel of supervising judges barred her from entering the county’s courthouses without a police escort. But neither that, nor the fact that numerous bar associations have recommended since 2000 that voters toss Brim from the bench, kept her from narrowly retaining her seat Tuesday.
It might have been a narrow victory, since Judge Brim needed 60 percent of the vote for retention and wound up with 63.5 percent. But it’s still impressive that she obtained support from almost two-thirds of the electorate.
Behold the power of incumbency. Last month, an article in the Chicago Sun-Times predicted that Judge Brim would prevail, noting that only once in the past 22 years has a sitting circuit judge gotten bounced (a judge with significant ethical issues).
Incidents like these call into question the wisdom of electing judges. As David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform told the Sun-Times, “It’s virtually impossible for people — even lawyers practicing in court all the time — to know who’s worthy of being on the bench.”
One has to wonder how many of the 63.5 percent of voters who supported Judge Brim were aware of the criminal allegations against her, as described in the Tribune:
[Brim's] attorney, James Montgomery Sr., said Brim has bipolar disorder and was in the midst of a manic episode when she shoved a deputy with both hands and threw a pair of keys at another in March.
“At that point she is absolutely psychotic in the sense of not having the ability to think straight or to even organize her thinking or to really remember a darn thing that happened,” he said.
A psychiatrist already has found Brim was legally insane at the time, Montgomery said. The finding means prosecutors cannot make their case, he said.
Of course, bipolar disorder can be managed with medication. There are probably a fair number of successful judges and lawyers who suffer from it or other forms of mental illness.
But Judge Brim’s brush with the law isn’t the only reason to question her fitness for the bench, as noted by the Sun-Times:
[B]ar associations have consistently criticized her work on the bench. [In October] the Chicago Bar Association issued its judicial evaluations for the 50-plus judges running for retention, putting her and seven other judges under the “not recommended” category, as the association did in 2006 when she was up for re-election….
The Chicago Council of Lawyers also recently found her “not qualified” — as the council did six years earlier.
“Most respondents indicated a lack of confidence in her legal abilities,” the evaluation reads. It went on to state that even though her legal cases are “generally non-complex . . . her rulings are often described as unpredictable and delayed. . . . The consistently negative reports about Judge Brim’s judicial performance and her arrest at the courthouse at the Daley Center in downtown Chicago raise serious questions about whether she can remain effective on the bench.”
Interestingly enough, though, the Cook County Democratic Party supported her retention.
In light of these poor ratings, here’s the good news: Judge Brim has been suspended from hearing cases since March, and it’s not clear when she’ll be returning to the bench. During the suspension, she’ll continue to collect her $182,000 salary.
Paying a criminally charged, poorly reviewed judge more than $180,000 a year to do nothing? If that’s not legally insane, I don’t know what is.
Judge in court to face charges hours after re-election [Chicago Tribune]
Controversial Cook County judge “happy to be re-elected” [Chicago Sun-Times]
Bad reviews, shaky mental health not expected to keep judge off bench [Chicago Sun-Times via ABA Journal]