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Billy Goat owner, ex-Playboy columnist: Judge races can have intrigue too

Primary Election Day is March 20. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

Elections involving Cook County judges seldom are as hotly contested as races further up the ballot.

Would-be judges just can’t be as public about their stances, and they tend not to spend much money on ads.

But one county-wide race is drawing an unusual amount of attention.

The three-way primary for the vacant seat of Circuit Court Judge Deborah Dooling is turning out to be relatively rough-and-tumble, in the usually decorous fashion of judicial politics.

The race pits public defender Tim Leeming against Tom Sianis, scion of the Billy Goat Tavern beer and burger empire (and a department chief in the Secretary of State’s office), and divorce attorney Corri Diane Fetman.

Ordinarily, Leeming’s hobby of painting portraits of his former clients would qualify him as the quirkiest candidate, and, with the experience of helping elect his wife, Pamela Leeming, judge in 2012, he might even be considered a front-runner.

But Sianis has a better-funded campaign, and the name recognition that comes from his grandfather, Sam “Billy Goat” Sianis, the Greek immigrant restaurateur whose legendary hex of the Cubs would have been a massive political liability had the North Siders not won a World Series in 2016.

However, Sianis got a brief burst of negative publicity after Fetman complained about an ad, posted to a website affiliated with one of Sianis’ campaign consultants, showing Fetman flexing in a bodybuilding competition with voiceover calling her a poseur — spelled “posser” in text that flashed on the screen.

Sianis says he knew nothing about the ad, and called the message inappropriate.

Fetman gained national media attention in 2007 when she posted a billboard in River North emblazoned with the maxim “Life is short. Get a divorce” alongside a pair of muscled torsos.

Fetman would go on to pose in Playboy and serve as an advice columnist for the magazine, then sued an editor for sexual harassment.

That’s a fair amount of sizzle for a judicial campaign, but, for a bit more substance, Leeming and Sianis both have been rated as “qualified” by the Chicago Bar Association, Chicago Council of Lawyers and Illinois Bar Association.

Fetman, who said did not participate in the intensive interview process with the associations because she delayed her campaign while fending off a ballot challenge, was not recommended by the associations.