Shelly A. Harris, Illinois Supreme Court Democratic candidate profile

He is an appellate court judge.

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Appellate Judge Shelly A. Harris, 2020 Illinois Supreme Court Democratic primary election candidate.

Appellate Judge Shelly A. Harris, Illinois Supreme Court Democratic primary candidate.

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Candidate profile

Shelly A. Harris

Running for: Illinois Supreme Court

Occupation:Justice Illinois Appellate Court, 1st. District, 6th Division

Other professional experience: While in law school, I was an eighth grade and special education teacher in the Chicago Public School system. I began my law career in 1966 as a trial lawyer for the Legal Aid Bureau in Chicago litigating contested child custody and support cases. In 1970, I started my own practice. After 10 years specializing in divorce and domestic relations matters, I switched to a trial lawyer practice in personal injury, medical malpractice, and corporate disputes. I was a principal in Haas and Harris, Ltd for 3 years and thereafter for over 25 years as Sheldon A. Harris & Associates. During my private practice years, I represented hundreds of clients at trial and in the Appellate Court in the fields of tort, negligence, bankruptcy and commercial law. I presided in numerous arbitration and mediation hearings for the Circuit Court of Cook County, ADR Systems of America in Chicago, and private mediations. I served as the first pro bono mentor to attorneys in the Chicago Bar Association’s Access to Justice Program when it was initiated.

Education: Niles Twp H.S., Skokie, IL, June, 1959

University of Illinois 1959-60

University of Arizona, 1960-63 B.S Business Administration

John Marshall Law School 1963 – 66, JD degree

The Lawyer’s Institute 1967-68 Post Law Graduate Studies

Campaign website:

Facebook: @HarrisForJustice

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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. Shelly A. Harris submitted the following responses:

Tell us why you are qualified to be a Supreme Court justice.

I believe that I am qualified to be a Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court because of the incredible amount of work I have done in the eight-plus years I have served on the Illinois Appellate Court in addition to my 10 year experience as a jury and non jury trial judge. In the Appellate court alone I have authored over 650 majority opinions, dissents and concurrences. In addition to the 650 opinions I have also written hundreds of Rule 23 orders which are equvilent to opinions .

What two cases have you ruled on as an appellate judge that best reflect your scholarship, judicial philosophy and approach to justice? 

Sealing Court Files

The ultimate checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution is Article One, Freedom of the Press. Routinely litigants and their lawyers will by agreement or otherwise have courts seal the court file to keep the file from the press. As a trial court judge and Justice of the Appellate Court, I consistently deny motions to seal court files from the public and newspapers unless there is an over whelming reason not to. See Truly v. Truly, Illinois Appellate Court, First District, No. 1-16-1413, Kaufman v. Gramercy Advisors, Illinois Appellate Court, First District, No.150106, Skolnick v. Altheimer & Gray, 191 Ill. 2d 214, 230-38.

People v. Carl Williams. 2012 IL App (lst) 11114

This is the seminal Illinois appellate decision which I wrote holding the United States Supreme Court decision, Miller v. Alabama is to be applied retroactively in Illinois. My majority opinion reversed the dismissal of defendant’s third and fourth postconviction petitions and ordered a remand holding a mandatory life sentence without parole imposed for an offense committed when he was a juvenile violated the eighth amendment.

In what way would you fill circuit court bench vacancies?

As a justice of the Supreme Court, the single most direct and powerful impact one can make is the appointment of judges to sit on the Circuit Court of Cook County. To ensure and promote the appoinment of diverse judges, I will empanel a Merit Selection Committee comprised of lawyers, retired judges and members of the community. I firmly believe that the input of civic and community leaders in making such appointments is invaluable to ensure that our judiciary reflects the rich diversity of talent and perspectives that Cook County has to offer. Under no circumstances would I make an appointment without consulting civic and community leaders. The community must have confidence in the manner in which Supreme Court justices make judicial appoinments. Transparency cannot exist without active and meaningful participation by civic and community leaders in the selection process.

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?

Just last September the Court system was granted a budget increase to partially alleviate costs paid by local governments. Unless the state can substantially increase its revenues asking the Legislature for additional increases is unrealistic and as explained in the following question absolutely not neccesary.

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.

Our current system could be less expensive, more efficient and more expeditious if the current judges did their job. As a Supreme Court justice I would use the administrative function of the court to empower the supervisory judges to make judges do their jobs. It is often not in the best interests of attorneys to dispose of a given case. It is therefore up to the judge assigned to the case to move it along. Some judges fail to do this because they want to be everyone’s friend. Some judges fail to move cases along because they are lazy and/or incompetent. The best way to improve this situation is to give the judges presiding over divisions of the circuit court the ability to criticize and transfer judges under their supervision. As things stand now, dozens of judges do no useful work on any given day. Those judges who routinely do not arrive on time should have their paycheck docked. Those judges who routinely fail to come to work should be made subject to Judicial Inquiry Board investigations. Similarly, those judges who are incompetent to carry out their duties should also be subject to inquiries by the Judicial Inquiry Board. Requiring all judges to diligently carry out their duties would have a salutary effect on the entire system. Removing incompetent judges would be a great benefit in itself.

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?

Judicial review should be granted in cases where the lower court has determined or created an illegality, irrationality or procedural impropriety.

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?

Public funding is thought to be the remedy taking corruption out of elections. I doubt that, but it would remove undue monetary influence on politicians. Since the US Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC defined money as a form of speech the prospect of greater public funding of elections is dim.

The Illinois Supreme Court currently is overwhelmingly white. Given that, how important is the issue of diversity in this specific election?

Diversity on the bench is extremely important. That’s why, if I’m elected to the Supreme Court, I will be appointing judges that reflect the diversity in Cook County throughout my tenure.

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?

These matters and issues are likely to come before the Supreme Court. Accordingly I am prohibited to respond.

You’re a lawyer, right? So tell us. What’s the best movie, TV or book ever set inside a courtroom?

While “My Cousin Vinny” is always a good movie to get me laughing, I think the best movie set in a courtroom is “The Verdict.”

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.

Justice Seymour Simon was a politician-turned judge who consistently turned away from power in favor of principle. Jack M. Beerman said it best, “He was a brilliant man who had one guiding principle: justice under the law. He did not compromise his principles—which as a judge meant he was the hardest working member of his court—probably filing more dissenting and concurring opinions than all the other justices combined during his time on the Illinois Supreme Court.”

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