Thirty-four times in the past six years, the Illinois Appellate Court has upended decisions by Cook County Circuit Judge Maura Slattery Boyle based on her errors, overturning her decisions at a pace far higher than that of other judges.
Slattery Boyle is one of the six Cook County criminal court judges who will be on the ballot in November, seeking retention. The other five have had their verdicts reversed or cases sent back for new hearings a combined total of 38 times during the same period.
Five times, in the interest of impartiality, the appeals court decided Slattery Boyle shouldn’t be allowed to hear cases it sent back, handing them to other judges instead.
In three of those cases, the defendants ended up being exonerated.
That’s according to a review by Injustice Watch that also found Slattery Boyle imposes harsher sentences than her colleagues. Compared with the 23 other Criminal Division judges who have presided over 1,000 or more cases in the past six years, she issues the most severe sentences, the examination of data released by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office found.
Slattery Boyle declined an interview request. In a written statement in response to questions, she said the appellate court upheld her rulings in the “vast majority of cases” and defended her sentencing practices. She also said attorneys have asked that her cases be reassigned to another judge only a small percentage of the time — “a clear indicator that defendants, defense attorneys and the state’s attorney’s office do not view me [as] unfair, harsh or difficult.”
Slattery Boyle grew up in Bridgeport, two blocks from the home of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. She graduated from John Marshall Law School in 1993 and went to work for the state’s attorney’s office.
In 2000, at 33, she ran for judge with the backing of Cook County Commissioner John Daley, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s brother. “I’ve known her all my life,” he said at the time. “She has a very good background.”
The alliance of bar associations that rates Cook County judicial candidates has an agreement that it will not rate any candidate favorably who has fewer than 10 years of court experience. Slattery Boyle, who did not seek the endorsement, was given negative ratings.
She won anyway. Six years later, as she was running for retention, Patrick Slattery, her brother, was convicted of fraud for giving city jobs to former campaign workers for then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.
That year, the Chicago Council of Lawyers — one of the bar groups that rates judicial candidates — said Slattery Boyle possessed “good legal ability” and that lawyers praised her for “being even-tempered but firm.”
In 2012, the organization again rated her “qualified,” saying lawyers praised her for “her improved knowledge of the law, preparedness and diligence, integrity and fairness on the bench.” It said, “Attorneys on both sides of the aisle appear to think that she is fair.”
In recent years, though, her work has drawn criticism from appellate judges and some defense lawyers. One of them, Jennifer Bonjean, called it “a miserable experience” to be in front of Slattery Boyle, saying, “I knew from the minute we walked in that courtroom we would not get a fair forum.”
Bonjean represented Armando Serrano, who had been convicted along with José Montañez of murder in the 1993 killing of Rodrigo Vargas. The two had been sentenced to 55 years in prison largely on the statement of a supposed eyewitness, who, years later, recanted, saying a disgraced former Chicago police detective, Reynaldo Guevara, had encouraged him to give a false statement.
After the witness recanted, Serrano and Montanez challenged their convictions. At court hearings in 2013, Slattery Boyle sharply restricted the testimony she would allow, then dismissed the case before the hearing was complete, saying their evidence “entirely fails to support their allegation” that Guevara forced the witness to falsely implicate them.
On appeal, a three-judge panel of the Illinois Appellate Court called that decision “truly puzzling.” Written by Appellate Judge John B. Simon, the decision said Slattery Boyle “turned a blind eye to much of the evidence and also refused to admit probative, admissible evidence that, when evaluated under the proper standard, is damning. “
The following month, after the appellate court sent the case to another judge, both men were freed when the prosecutors chose not to contest the case further.
In another case, in 2015, the appellate court found Slattery Boyle “abused her discretion” by disqualifying attorneys from the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project from handling post-conviction proceedings for Ricardo Rodriguez, who said he, too, was wrongly convicted based on evidence fabricated by Guevara.
Expressing concern that the pro bono lawyers unethically stepped in while Rodriguez was being represented by a private attorney, Slattery Boyle referred the attorneys for possible disciplinary action and removed them from representing Rodriguez in his efforts to overturn his conviction.
The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission found no wrongdoing by the attorneys. And an Illinois Appellate Court panel reversed the judge’s ruling, restored the attorneys from the Exoneration Project and ordered the case be assigned to a new judge.
In March, the state’s attorney’s office agreed to support overturning the verdict without the hearing ever taking place.
In 2016, the appellate court found fault with Slattery Boyle for letting a jury hear that a defendant, Joe Rosado, previously had been charged with a crime but not allowing the jury to hear that a jury found him “not guilty” of the earlier charge.
Slattery Boyle had been the trial judge for the prior case and said the prosecution “did not handle that case correctly because the evidence . . . was quite clear.”
In reversing the conviction, the appellate panel opinion, authored by Judge Michael B. Hyman, said, “Outward appearances would suggest that the trial court changed its evidentiary rulings in the second case to ensure that Rosado was not acquitted again.”
A review of data from the state’s attorney’s office shows Slattery Boyle also sentences more harshly than other judges. More often than not, she sentences defendants to prison terms longer than the median given by other Cook County judges and she overwhelmingly favors prison time over probation, especially for minor offenses.
Slattery Boyle disputes that, writing that “your assessment that I impose harsh sentences is based on incomplete data” that didn’t take into account that some judges are assigned to courtrooms where they tend to hear less serious cases.
But the analysis did factor in the category of crime to ensure the comparison of sentences given by judges was fair. It showed Slattery Boyle issues more severe sentences compared to all of the other Criminal Division judges who also have issued more than 1,000 sentences in the past six years.
In 2014, an Illinois Appellate Court panel overturned the conviction of Oscar Flores for murder and attempted murder, ruling that Slattery Boyle had wrongly permitted a videotaped confession to be introduced at his trial even though detectives obtained the statement after Flores had invoked his right to remain silent.
The appeals court judges also cautioned her about allowing, at retrial, social media posts by a user named “Little Rowdy,” who appeared to brag about the shooting. Police contended that Little Rowdy was Flores. But the appellate panel wrote that the captions accompanying the posts “should not be admitted at trial” since prosecutors couldn’t show Flores had written them.
Assistant State’s Attorney Eric Leafblad called Robert Macias, who had been separately tried and convicted as the driver, as a witness even though Macias’s lawyer said her client wouldn’t testify. Despite objections, Slattery Boyle allowed Leafblad to ask Macias about the killing and his association with Flores.
She also permitted Leafblad to ask a detective whether Macias had identified Flores as Little Rowdy, as well as questions about the captions the appeals court had found were inadmissible as evidence.
The jury convicted Flores a second time. Assistant Public Defender Julie Koehler then filed a motion asking that the case be reassigned, saying Slattery Boyle could not be “fair and impartial in the case” and that “her prejudice was evidenced throughout the trial.”
The motion included a juror’s statement that the judge had gone in to the jury room after the verdict and told jurors Flores previously confessed on videotape but that the appellate court had suppressed the evidence based on a “loophole.”
Koehler’s motion was denied, and Slattery Boyle sentenced Flores to 80 years in prison. The state appellate defender is preparing an appeal.
Contributing: Injustice Watch reporter Jeanne Kuang and Injustice Watch interns Rachel Kim and Abigail Bazin
Jacob Toner Gosselin and Kobi Guillory are reporters for Injustice Watch, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit journalism organization that conducts in-depth research to expose institutional failures that obstruct justice and equality.
Eight key Maura Slattery Boyle cases
In each of these cases, Cook County Circuit Judge Maura Slattery Boyle’s rulings were found to have been in error.
People v. Kimbler, 2015
The issue: Tracy Kimbler was arrested in 2012 after police found him at a bus stop with a purse that had, minutes earlier, been taken from the woman’s apartment. He was tried before Cook County Circuit Judge Maura Slattery Boyle in a nonjury trial. After his conviction, he appealed.
The judge’s decision: The judge convicted Kimbler of burglary and theft and sentenced him to two concurrent 10-year prison terms, followed by three years of supervision. The judge also ordered Kimbler to pay $500 for the costs of court-appointed representation.
The appellate court: A panel of the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the burglary conviction, finding there was no evidence Kimbler had been inside the victim’s apartment and was the person who took the purse. The court ordered resentencing, saying the sentence was unduly harsh. And the panel said that Slattery Boyle had wrongly assessed attorney fees without establishing Kimbler’s ability to pay.
People v. Harbin, 2018
The issue: Patrick Harbin was on trial for armed robbery, aggravated vehicular hijacking and possession of a stolen motor vehicle. He chose not to testify. Despite being about a foot shorter and 40 pounds lighter than the original description given by the victim, Harbin was found guilty by a jury based largely on one eyewitness’s testimony.
The judge’s decision: During jury instructions, Slattery Boyle did not inform jurors that Harbin’s decision not to testify could not be held against him — a violation of a Supreme Court rule.
The appellate court: An appeals court panel found Slattery Boyle’s error “had especially prejudicial effect” because the evidence against Harbin was questionable. “Where jurors may well have thought that Harbin’s failure to testify meant he committed the crime, we cannot ignore the trial court’s violation,” Justice P. Scott Neville Jr. wrote.
The fallout: The appellate court ordered a new trial, which is pending.
People v. Rosado, 2017
The issue: Joe Rosado was on trial for selling drugs to an undercover Chicago police officer. He recently had been acquitted of an almost identical crime. The prosecution wanted to present testimony about his other charge.
The judge’s decision: Slattery Boyle, who was also Rosado’s judge in the other case, allowed the prosecution to present testimony about the other charge — but did not allow Rosado to say he had been acquitted. She said, regarding the former case, that the prosecution “did not handle that case correctly, because the evidence…was quite clear.”
The appellate court: In the opinion, Justice Michael Hyman wrote, “Outward appearances would suggest that the trial court changed its evidentiary rulings in the second case to ensure that Rosado was not acquitted again.” He also wrote, “Both in terms of logic and fairness, the trial court’s decision was ‘unreasonable’ and an abuse of discretion.”
The fallout: The appeals court reversed the decision and sent the case to a different judge.
People v. Serrano, 2016
The issue: Armando Serrano contended in a post-conviction petition that he had been wrongly convicted of murder based on false evidence developed by the now-disgraced Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara.
The judge’s decision: Slattery Boyle limited the evidence Serrano could present and then cut short a hearing on his petition, ruling that the evidence “entirely fails to support” Serrano’s claim.
The appellate court: A panel of the appellate court called that decision “truly puzzling,” saying the judge had “turned a blind eye to much of the evidence and also refused to admit probative, admissible evidence that, when evaluated under the proper standard, is damning. Even where the court gave lip service to the standard it was supposed to apply, the court clearly did not adhere to that standard.”
The fallout: The Cook County state’s attorney’s office chose not to contest overturning the conviction, and charges were dropped on July 20, 2016.
People v. Montanez, 2016
The issue: Jose Montañéz’s post-conviction petition in the 1993 killing of Rodrigo Vargas alleged that Detective Reynaldo Guevara coerced false statements against him and Armando Serrando.
The judge’s decision: Slattery Boyle blocked key witness testimony implicating Guevara.
The appellate court: The appellate court reversed her decision in 2016 and sent the case to a different judge. In the opinion, Justice John Simon wrote that Slattery Boyle ignored two pieces of evidence “which provide direct evidence of misconduct in this case.” He concluded, “The interests of justice would be best and most efficiently served by the case being assigned to a different judge on remand.”
The fallout: Charges were dropped against Montañéz on July 20, 2016.
People v. Rodriguez, 2015
The issue: Ricardo Rodriguez was pursuing his claims that Detective Reynaldo Guevara had told a witness to falsely implicate him, resulting in Rodriguez’s murder conviction. Without funds to employ a private lawyer for any longer, Rodriguez’s family reached out to the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago, which agreed to represent Rodriguez for free.
The judge’s decision: Slattery Boyle filed an ethics complaint in response, saying the Exoneration Project attorneys had stepped in to the case while Rodriguez was still being represented by a private attorney. Though Illinois’ attorney disciplinary agency found no need for disciplinary action, she disqualified Rodriguez’s new lawyers from representing him.
The appellate court: An appeals court panel reversed her decision and sent the case to a different judge. In the unpublished opinion, Justice Margaret McBride wrote that Slattery Boyle had “abused her discretion.”
The fallout: Rodriguez was released March 27 after his conviction was overturned at the request of the state attorney’s office. He was then taken into custody by immigration officials, as his permanent residence status had been revoked while he was in prison.
People v. Baldwin 2017:
The issue: Derrick Baldwin was convicted of home invasion, burglary, unlawful restraint and two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault. Baldwin had filed a motion in the first 10 days asking that the case be assigned to a different judge. He also was permitted to represent himself at his trial.
The judge’s decision: Slattery Boyle turned down the motion to substitute judges, saying the request was not presented to her within the 10-day period — though, in fact, it was filed within that time. And she permitted Baldwin to represent himself, without giving him the required admonitions to ensure that decision was an informed choice.
The appellate court: An appellate court panel reversed all five convictions, ruling that Slattery Boyle had wrongly ruled that the motion for a substitute judge was not timely and also failed to properly admonish the defendant about representing himself. Both errors, the court wrote, required the conviction be dismissed.
The fallout: The appellate court ordered that the case be assigned to another judge for retrial.
People v. Williams (2016):
The issue: Slattery Boyle found Clarence Williams guilty of murder in the shooting death of a 10-year old bystander named Arthur Jones during a gang dispute. WIlliams had fired a gun once, into the air, which he told authorities he did to disperse the crowd. The evidence at trial was that another man fired the shots that killed Jones, who was on his way to buy candy.
The judge’s ruling: Slattery Boyle ruled that although Williams was not part of the gang, he was convicted under the theory of accountability for the murder by another. She sentenced Williams to 43 years in prison..
The appellate court: An appellate panel wrote that “the evidence [was] so improbable and unsatisfactory that is creates a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt.” It overturned the murder conviction and upheld a conviction for unlawful discharge of a firearm. In addition, the court wrote, “We direct the trial court to conform to the requirements of the Sex Offender Registration Act before requiring defendant to register as a sex offender for a seemingly non-sexual crime.”
The fallout: In 2017, Slattery Boyle resentenced Williams to 15 years in prison. While she said she stood by her original conviction, she said in court that she was bound by the appellate decision.