Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas R. Allen, a former Northwest Side alderman, said Monday he plans to run for chief judge, a position held the past 15 years by another former City Council member, Timothy C. Evans.
It would be only the second challenge to Evans’ leadership in that timespan and first since 2010, when Evans handily turned aside a bid by since-retired Judge William Maddux.
Evans, 73, responded by issuing a letter declaring his intention to seek re-election to a sixth, three-year term in which he took note of other possible candidates.
“I welcome the challenge,” said Evans, touting his own record and passion for the job.
The chief judge election is unusual in that the only voters are the approximately 250 full circuit judges serving in Cook County. That doesn’t make it any less political.
The election is expected to unleash a flurry of behind-the-scenes politicking leading up to a mid-September meeting at which the judges will vote by secret ballot.
Yet it can a delicate dance, as was evident in Allen’s cautious response to my assertion that I heard he had decided to run against Evans.
“I’m not running against anybody,” emphasized Allen. “I’m just going to submit my name and credentials to my colleagues. We’ll see who else does. At the end of the day, if they’re inclined to support me, so be it.”
Allen, 64, served as 38th Ward alderman from 1993 until he went on the bench in December 2010.
Before going into politics, Allen was a public defender for a decade before becoming a criminal defense attorney in private practice. He ran for Cook County state’s attorney in 2008 but finished second in a six-way contest to Anita Alvarez.
Allen’s sister is married to former Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th), who succeeded him in office. That’s why his tenure as alderman is usually counted as a continuation of the Cullerton family’s long reign on the City Council, which just ended last year with Tim’s retirement.
Allen serves in Chancery Court. Outside the courtroom, he is well known for his devotion to handball, playing with a close-knit group at Rainbow Beach Park. A couple years back, he was national champion in his age group.
Allen’s candidacy comes at a time when there has been more grumbling than usual inside and outside the judiciary about Evans’ management of the courts.
Judge Patrick Murphy, the former Cook County public guardian, has caused a stir with a series of written critiques of the Circuit Court circulated among his fellow judges.
In his latest letter, Murphy clarified that he is not a candidate for chief judge and said his concerns about the “top-down dictatorial” nature of the Cook County courts are not aimed at Evans personally.
“I do not criticize Tim Evans. He inherited a process,” wrote Murphy, who among other things has called for term limits on the chief judge and a decentralization of power.
In his own letter, Evans said: “I continue to have an open mind about reform, and I am always grateful for constructive advice.”
The breadth of dissension within the judiciary is always hard to gauge. Despite similar grumbling in 2010, Maddux was defeated by a 2-to-1 ratio.
Evans, the county’s first African-American elected as chief judge, also has many supporters on the bench, some of whom he’s placed in supervisory positions.
Allen also offered no criticism of Evans but said he has some “thoughts and ideas on how we can make some improvements.”
Most of Allen’s ideas revolved around better communication among judges.
“There needs to be a dialogue. I think there needs to be more collegiality. I think there needs to be more conversation among judges,” he said.
An election contest between Allen and Evans would certainly give them something to talk about for the next few months.