Wave of retirements leaves Cook County short on judges: memo

CHICAGO — It’s a great job with a salary north of $200,000 annually. Once hired, you have a next-to-zero chance of ever being fired. And, if you stick around for 20 years, you’ll receive a six-figure pension.

All you need to do is get picked to fill one of the growing number of Cook County judge vacancies.

In a memo to the county’s judges on Wednesday, Chief Judge Timothy Evans acknowledged the court system, which has seats for 239 circuit judges and 147 associate judges, is short-handed.

“At present, our court has 15 (fifteen) circuit judge vacancies, with two additional retirements scheduled for July,” Evans wrote. “In addition, I have received letters from 3 (three) associate judges indicating their intent to retire in July and have been informed that an additional 6 (six) judges may retire as well.”

“Many of our divisions and districts are experiencing shortages due to these vacancies,” the chief judge acknowledged.

A court spokesperson said there is no shortage in the criminal division, which is operating with its full roster of 42 judges.

Evans asked presiding judges to “review their operations and identify ways to streamline court calls that best utilize our current resources.”

He acknowledged that there has been “an increase in judicial transfer requests” from judges assigned to divisions where caseloads are increasing due to the shortage. But there’s no escape.

“Transferring judges from one division or district to another is not currently feasible,” said Evans.

Circuit Court judges, who earned $223,219 as of last July, must win a retention vote every six years. But prospective judges need not worry about that. When voters refused to keep Judge Matthew Coghlan on the bench in 2018, he became the first sitting Cook County circuit judge to lose in nearly 30 years. All judges up for retention last year won.

Associate judges, who serve four-year terms, are appointed. They earned $212,058 annually as of last summer.

Statewide, 396 of 400 associate judges were retained this year, court watcher Jack Leyhane reported Thursday. The only Cook County associate judge not to be reappointed was Gregory Vazquez. He opted to retire after Injustice Watch reported that he waltzed into a Brookfield massage parlor amid a vice raid.

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