Judge’s email is rare look inside associate judge retention process

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A Cook County judge sent an email last week to his benchmates urging them to vote to dump one of the associate judges he supervises.

The email from Judge Edmund Ponce de Leon, presiding judge of the County Division, has set off a heck of an internal flap within the Cook County judiciary where such open campaigning against a fellow judge is frowned upon.

It also has provided a rare look inside the associate judge retention process.

The target of Ponce de Leon’s blackball effort is Associate Judge David A. Skryd, who Ponce de Leon criticized for his “work ethics.”

“He shouldn’t be a judge,” Ponce de Leon concluded in his email, which he circulated to the court’s 18 presiding judges with a request they pass along his concerns.

Warren Lupel, an attorney for Skryd, accused Ponce de Leon of retaliating against Skryd for being a “whistleblower” who reported Ponce de Leon to Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans for “scurrilous” remarks made about another judge.

Lupel said Ponce de Leon also made accusations against Skryd to the Chicago Bar Association, which subsequently found Skryd “not recommended” in its evaluation of associate judges seeking retention.

Skryd was one of only two of the 140 judges facing retention this year to fail to receive passing marks from the bar group’s evaluators.

Associate judges are appointed to four-year terms through a vote of the full circuit judges, then must face a retention vote by those judges if they wish to be reappointed. It takes a favorable vote from at least 60 percent to keep their job. It’s extremely rare for an associate judge to be voted out.

Ballots were sent to Cook County’s 259 circuit judges on May 21 and must be returned by Thursday.

This entire process normally plays out behind the scenes. The CBA doesn’t even make its evaluations public, instead providing them only to Evans.

But a source provided me a copy of Ponce de Leon’s email slamming Skryd.

I have tried for several years to change his work ethics, Ponce de Leon wrote. Other judges have to fill in for him when he’s wondering (sic) the building talking to his friends, instead of tending to his call. I can list many other incidents, some that go to the very core of integrity, he continued. I do this sadly but we’re at our wits end. He shouldn’t be a judge. Please vote NO for Skryd and pass it along.

Skryd, 54, of Riverside, was first appointed to the bench in 2005. He became an associate judge in 2007 and survived a retention vote in 2011, at which time he was found qualified by the CBA.

Ponce de Leon, 62, has been a judge more than 18 years, including four years as presiding judge of the County Division and 10 years before that as presiding judge in Maybrook.

The County Division, in which they both work, deals with various odds and ends of the court system including adoptions, mental health commitments, election disputes and tax rate objections.

It’s not a plum assignment, but many judges prefer its location in the Daley Center to being stuck in one of the branch courts.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Ponce de Leon acknowledged authoring the email and sharing his unfavorable assessment of Skryd with the bar association.

“When I was called, I answered truthfully,” he said. “I feel as judges we have to disclose these things. Judges should not be given passes.”

But Ponce de Leon denied any retaliation, saying he made a formal complaint about Skryd to Evans as far back as 2013. He noted the bar association’s rating of Skryd was based on interviews with other judges and lawyers as well.

Lupel called Ponce de Leon’s email “outrageous” and added: “Every judge I’ve talked to is finding the email to be offensive.”

“Ponce de Leon is doing everything he can to ruin Skryd’s career and reputation because he is a whistleblower,” Lupel said.

Sources said the alleged comments about another judge by Ponce de Leon, allegedly witnessed by Skryd, have been reported to the Judicial Inquiry Board.

Ponce de Leon confirmed he has requested a transfer that would relieve him of his presiding judge duties. Others say he was about to be pushed out.

Here’s where I’m supposed to tie this up in a neat bow and tell you how to make sense of this. Beats the heck out of me.

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