Jesse G. Reyes
Running for: Illinois Supreme Court
Occupation: Appellate Court Justice
Cook County Circuit Court Judge
Cook County Associate Judge
Attorney, Chicago Public Schools
Office of the Corporation Counsel , Chicago - Senior Attorney
Education: B.A from University of Illinois at Chicago
The John Marshall Law School, Chicago
The Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board sent candidates for Illinois Supreme Court in the 1st District that covers Cook County a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues. Jesse G. Reyes submitted the following responses:
Tell us why you are qualified to be a Supreme Court justice.
I believe I am qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice as I bring to the position diversity of experience, diversity of practice and diversity of perspective. I also bring the ability to identify problems and find a solution to a situation or issue affecting our system of justice. Additionally, I have made it a point to share my experience and knowledge by teaching, lecturing and presenting on a wide variety of topics to law students, lawyers, judges, and laypeople locally and nationally. Lastly, I have dedicated myself as a jurist to be a public servant on and off the bench. My commitment to serving the public does not end when I step off the bench it continues beyond the courtroom.
As a lawyer, I worked in private practice representing clients in personal injury cases and workers’ compensation matters. I also practiced law in the public sector including in the City of Chicago’s Corporation Counsel’s Office in the Torts Division serving as a Senior Supervising Attorney in the division’s Special Litigation section. From the Corp Counsel’s office and immediately prior to the bench, I was employed with the Chicago Board of Education in the Policy and Reform section. As a lawyer, I tried cases in both federal and state court. I also tried matters before the Industrial Commission and represented my clients in mediations as well. Throughout my legal career, I have had the additional responsibility of supervising lawyers, law students, and administrative staff members.
I have been a member of the judiciary for over twenty-two years, since December 2, 1997. During that time, I have been vetted by the bar associations and found to be either Highly Qualified, Qualified or Recommended to serve as an Associate Judge, Circuit Court Judge, and Appellate Court Justice. Similarly, I have been found to be Highly Qualified to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court by the Chicago Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association, Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois and the Puerto Rican Bar Association. I have also received a recommended rating from the Cook County Bar Association, Black Women Lawyers’ Association, Decalogue Society of Lawyers, and the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois. I am still waiting to hear from some of the other bar associations represented within the Alliance of Bar Associations Judicial Evaluation Committee but to date have not heard from the other associations.
As a Circuit Court Judge, I have had the pleasure of serving in a variety of assignments wherein I presided over a variety of different matters. When I first became a judge, I informed my superiors that I would be willing to serve wherever needed. My offer was accepted and as a result, early in my career, I presided over matters in many of the courtrooms in the Cook County Court system. I also had the occasion to preside over bench and jury trials. I also had the opportunity to become involved in very complex pretrial matters.
As a member of the Illinois Appellate Court I have served as a presiding judge, Chair of the court’s Settlement Committee and have been on the court’s Executive Committee.
While assigned to Traffic Court in the DUI Courtroom, I became intimately involved in a project to provide better access to justice for communities who were being disproportionately affected by the state’s DUI Laws. The end result was an educational video which informed the public of the consequences of driving under the influence. The video also informed the public of their rights and instructed them regarding courtroom procedures. The video was displayed by the Secretary of State’s Office in their facilities throughout Illinois. The local television networks also supported this effort by telecasting the video during their prime ratings week.
While assigned to the Chancery Division’s Mortgage Foreclosure/Mechanics Lien Section at the height of the foreclosure crisis, I established and supervised the judicial extern program which was of tremendous assistance to the judges assigned to hear these matters. The externs provided an invaluable service because they assisted in the review of the massive number of documents filed by the lenders with the court. As a result, the judges assigned to the division were able to more closely scrutinize the materials submitted by the lenders and in the process ensure that each case received the attention necessary to render justice to both sides. As an aside at the height of the foreclosure crisis in the Circuit Court of Cook County there were ten (10) judges assigned to the Mortgage Foreclosure Section each having a caseload of eight thousand (8000) cases which consisted of commercial and residential foreclosures totaling eighty thousand (80,000) cases.
In the early 2000s, to address the lack of diversity in the legal profession, I, along with a handful of attorneys and judges, established the Diversity Scholarship Foundation, NFP (DSF). The purpose of the DSF has been to promote diversity within the legal profession. While I am a founding member, I did not take over the reins of the foundation until late 2013. Thereafter, we firmly established the scholarship aspect of the Foundation and expanded its geographic outreach to include law schools located within the Seventh Circuit (Indiana, Illinois & Wisconsin). Since 2013 on an average each year we have awarded $50,000 in scholarships to students from various diverse backgrounds. Many of our past recipients have gone on to graduate from law school and are enjoying very rewarding careers.
In addition to providing scholarships, the DSF has developed programs to highlight diverse members of the legal profession by having them participate as presenters in our Continuing Legal Education Programs. We also have them appear on our Cable Television Program “Profiles in the Law” which is a twenty-eight minute televised program which is seen throughout Chicagoland. In a further effort to promote diversity within the legal profession we invite bar association presidents from around the state each year to attend Our annual scholarship dinner. At the dinner they are asked to swear or affirm that they will promote and support diversity in the legal profession.
It is for all the reasons stated above why I believe I am qualified to be on the Illinois Supreme Court.
What two cases have you ruled on as an appellate judge that best reflect your scholarship, judicial philosophy and approach to justice?
I believe that Racky v. Belfor USA Group, Inc., 2017 IL App (1st) 153446 and CitiMortgage v. Lewis, 2014 IL App (1st) 131272, best reflect my scholarship, judicial philosophy and approach to justice. Racky was a decision that required exhaustive research in multiple areas and even into the law of other states. With the deferential standard of review in mind, Racky explored what it means to experience conscious pain and suffering under Illinois law and affirmed the trial court’s decision. Racky is also one of the first Illinois cases to discuss what is termed “complicated grief” and its relationship to a damage award under the Wrongful Death Act.
Lewis reflects my judicial philosophy that everyone deserves to be heard by the court within the parameters of the law. Lewis involved a foreclosure action wherein the mortgagor sought assistance under the federal HAMP program just prior to the judicial sale of her residence. At the hearing on the confirmation of the judicial sale, the mortgagor requested limited discovery and an evidentiary hearing on the issue of whether the lender sold the property in violation of HAMP and the Illinois Mortgage Foreclosure Act. The circuit court denied the mortgagor’s request and confirmed the sale of the property. On appeal, this court found that the mortgagor was entitled to the limited discovery and evidentiary hearing she requested. This determination was based on the state legislature’s intent to provide mortgagors who seek assistance under HAMP with certain procedural avenues that would allow them to save their residences from foreclosure if properly followed. The mortgagor in Lewis properly followed these procedures and was thus entitled to pursue her claim.
In what way would you fill circuit court bench vacancies?
I would first establish a non-partisan committee consisting of retired judges, lawyers, and laypeople to interview all applicants seeking an appointment. One definite requirement for the committee to consider would be that the candidate has previously been vetted by the bar associations. Aside from determining experience, the committee would then explore the individual’s characteristics, including integrity. The focus of the committee here would be that the candidate would be someone that would treat everyone with respect regardless of their situation in life. The third requirement for the committee would be to explore the issue of diversity; not only as it relates to the individual’s ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and race, but also as to the individual’s diversity as it pertains to life and legal experience.
I would also, through public notices, inform the public who is being considered for appointment and invite public comment.
What would you do to improve the way the Supreme Court administers the state’s entire legal system? Will you ask the Legislature for more money and what would you use it for?
There are several areas where I believe the Supreme Court can improve the administration of justice in the State of Illinois. The first would be creating more transparency regarding the appointments the court makes to the bench and other areas within our court system. A process should be established as to how individuals are appointed to the bench that is both uniform and public. I believe the public is entitled to have input as to who sits in the “people’s courtrooms.” This open process would also serve to improve the lack of diversity we have in our judicial system.
In response to the second portion of the question, I would request from the legislature more money for the administration of justice. Before doing so, I would look to see if there were any areas where the court may have expended funds which may not have been necessary. I would also examine different means by which the Court could possibly generate additional revenue that can be utilized to better administer our system of justice. Only then I would make a request of the legislature for funds to improve the court’s access to justice.
Statewide, court filings are down 30%. At some point, do we need fewer judges? And are judges properly deployed now to where they are most needed? Please explain.
The supreme court, in the exercise of its authority in regard to its administrative capacity, should, on a regular basis, assess how many judges are necessary and where judges are most needed. It may be that a crisis could occur, as it did in 2008 with the mortgage foreclosure crisis, and the judges currently appointed could be reassigned to areas where they are needed without delay or expense.
While the supreme court may have, under the Illinois Constitution, the general administrative and supervisory authority to appoint judges, such decisions should be made in consideration of the needs of the chief judge of the receiving circuit. The supreme court should consider that the chief judge of the receiving court is in the best position to know where the appointed judge should be assigned. Moreover, the deployment of judges in a particular area should be considered with the public’s best interest in mind.
In each term, the Supreme Court receives hundreds of petitions for leave to appeal. What is your guiding philosophy as to which cases the court should decide to hear?
The Illinois Supreme Court hears most of its cases on appeal from the appellate court by discretionary review under Supreme Court Rule 315, which governs petitions for leave to appeal (PLAs).
Aside from hearing cases involving constitutional issues, the court should hear cases where there is a split within a district or split within the districts on a question of law. This would provide clarity within the jurisprudence of the state.
In addition, the court should consider cases that revisit common law doctrines that may not have been decided recently but where the trends in the law are changing existing precedent. In doing so, the court would be able to define what the law should be in a particular area.
Furthermore, as it pertains to issues of first impression, the court should review these issues to provide guidance for the courts in Illinois.
The Illinois Reform Commission has recommended a pilot program for public financing of judicial elections. Should judicial elections be publicly financed, and why or why not?
Judicial elections should be publicly financed. This would render the current method of electing judges to become more transparent.
The Illinois Supreme Court currently is overwhelmingly white. Given that, how important is the issue of diversity in this specific election?
Diversity is always a factor that should be considered by the voters regardless of the particular election at issue. Moreover, it is important to have diversity in all aspects of life, which includes not only racial and religious diversity, but also diversity of life experiences, education and background.
Diversity on the bench and within the court system is essential to instill confidence in the system. When people walk into a courtroom and they do not see anybody who looks like them, it serves to undermine confidence in the system. We should strive to have our courtrooms reflect the diversity of our society at large.
Many cases now being addressed by appellate courts have to do with gun possession, in part because of the state’s new concealed carry law. We also anticipate an increase in cannabis-related cases now that, as of Jan. 1, recreational marijuana will be legal but highly regulated. In light of this, do you foresee the Supreme Court being asked to redefine search-and-seizure protections? What is your view on the current restrictions on search-and-seizure?
Due to the legalization of cannabis in Illinois, it is highly likely that our supreme court will need to undertake a further examination into the application of the search and seizure laws and how they would apply to urine testing. This is evident by our supreme court’s recent decision in People v. Eubanks, 2019 IL 123525. That case involved blood and urine draws against the defendant’s will and pursuant to a statute after the defendant hit and killed a woman (and also severely injured her child) with a motor vehicle. The blood tested negative while the urine tested positive for cannabis, ecstasy, and cocaine. Our supreme court, relying on the United States Supreme Court decision Mitchell v. Wisconsin, 139 S.Ct. 2525 (2019), explained that warrants are not required where (1) the BAC evidence is dissipating and there was (2) some other factor pressing health, safety, or law enforcement needs that would take precedence over a warrant application.
Our supreme court concluded that the statute at issue was in line with Mitchell and therefore was not facially unconstitutional. However, when it came to a discussion about the urine test (which was imperative because it was the test that indicated the defendant had consumed controlled substances), our supreme court bypassed the issue of whether Mitchell’s holding would apply similarly to urine draws. Instead, our supreme court explained that based in part on the arguments of the parties, it would “assume” that urine tests fell under the purview of Mitchell. After applying the facts of the case to the law, our supreme court concluded that the urine test results should have been suppressed because law enforcement did not act as though there was an exigent circumstance because it took eight hours to collect the urine from the time the car accident occurred. At the end of this analysis, however, our supreme court stated, “As written, the statute tells the police that a warrant is unnecessary in all cases in which the police have probable cause to believe a person has driven or been in actual physical control of a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol and has caused a death or injury. However, Mitchell explained that the general rule will not apply in those unusual cases in which the blood draw is solely for law enforcement purposes and the police could not have reasonably judged that a warrant application would interfere with other pressing needs or duties. The legislature may wish to clarify this point.”
What historical figure from Illinois, other than Abraham Lincoln (because everybody’s big on Abe), do you most admire or draw inspiration from? Please explain.
Former Judge and Congressman Abner Mikva is someone that I have a deep admiration for. His story of walking into a Chicago ward committeeman’s office who asked him, “Who sent you?” and Mikva’s reply, “Nobody sent me,” is a famous story. The follow up from the committeeman, “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent,” is the quintessential story of Chicago politics. The story reinforced the need for independent leadership that fights for the people, not self-interest.
Mikva became the symbol of fairness and someone who could not be influenced by outside interests in American politics. He eventually formed the now famed Mikva Challenge. A Civic leadership program for Chicago youth that helps young people engage in politics and their community.
You’re a lawyer, right? So tell us. What’s the best movie, TV or book ever set inside a courtroom?
My Cousin Vinny, while a comedy, is in essence the tale of America and the American legal system. Vinny is the “little guy” who takes on the “big case” and prevails. Despite his client’s lives being at stake and being a fish out of water in the courtroom, Vinnie is not deterred in pursuing his dream of being a trial lawyer. This is akin to the American story; that we all aspire to overcome circumstances in our lives and to reach our goals.
In My Cousin Vinny, there are no real villains or evil protagonists, there are only circumstances that must be overcome to obtain the desired result. And while everything doesn’t go according to plan, Vinny deals with his circumstances and fights his way through these setbacks in order to obtain justice for his clients.