How a white police attorney got a West Side judge seat

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In 17 years on the board of the Jesse White Tumblers, attorney Robert Kuzas made some powerful allies in Chicago’s black community.

Now, those friends have helped Kuzas — who is white — secure a Cook County judgeship from a district created two decades ago to help get more African Americans elected to the bench from the West Side.

Kuzas leased an apartment on the downtown edge of the district to run for a vacancy created last November with the sudden retirement of Judge LaQuietta J. Hardy-Campbell, who was one of the subcircuit’s 10 judges, nine of them black. The timing of Hardy-Campbell’s retirement left potential candidates just 19 days to collect the signatures of 1,000 registered voters to get on the March primary ballot.

Kuzas managed to do that with the help of a political army. And he got the endorsements of black political figures including Secretary of State Jesse White and White’s protégé, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

Mable Taylor, an attorney who is black, also was seeking seat. But three Kuzas supporters challenged Taylor’s petitions and got her knocked off the ballot, leaving Kuzas with no opponent in the Democratic primary.

He’s also unopposed in next month’s general election. That means he will become one of two white judges in the seventh subcircuit, which stretches west from the Chicago River downtown across the West Side to Berwyn, Cicero and River Forest. The other white judge — elected two years ago, also without opposition — is William Gamboney, who was the attorney for disgraced former police Cmdr. Jon Burge.

“It’s a majority-black district,” says attorney Frank Avila, who represented Taylor. “They had to clear the field for Kuzas because he couldn’t win in a black district.”

Burnett says neither he nor White played any role in ending Taylor’s candidacy.

Kuzas “knocked her off the ballot,” says the alderman, adding, “I’ve known Kuzas for over 20 years from the Young Democrats. He’s my friend.”

Kuzas, a former cop, has been the attorney for the Chicago Police Sergeants Association. He represented Sgt. Sam Cirone, who came under fire from special prosecutor Dan K. Webb earlier this year over witness statements fabricated by the police to erroneously show that former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko acted in self-defense when he threw a punch that killed David Koschman.

Kuzas declined to comment on his judicial race, saying only, “I’ve wanted to be a judge since law school.”

Kuzas, a former 46th Ward Democratic committeeman, made a failed bid in 1995 to unseat then-Ald. Helen Shiller. That same year, he and his wife bought a condo on Lake Shore Drive.

That’s where they were living when Kuzas formed a campaign committee on Sept. 5, 2013, to run in the seventh subcircuit, about six miles south of his home.

At the time, the district had one vacancy, created by Judge William Henry Taylor II’s appointment to the Illinois Appellate Court.

Several lawyers were eyeing Taylor’s seat, including Judy Rice, who’d been city treasurer under former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Rice changed her voter registration from a North Side condo to an apartment at 1313 W. Randolph, in the seventh subcircuit, on Sept. 19, 2013.

The next day, Kuzas changed his voter registration from the Lake Shore Drive condo to a high-rise apartment at 555 W. Kinzie, on the district’s northeast edge, though his wife remains registered to vote at the Lake Shore Drive address.

Rice and two other African-American candidates — Cook County Associate Judge Marianne Jackson and Owens Shelby, an assistant Cook County state’s attorney — started circulating petitions to run for Taylor’s seat.

Hardy-Campbell announced her retirement on Nov. 10.The Illinois Supreme Court announced the new vacancy on Nov. 13. The next day, state election officials gave candidates permission to begin circulating petitions, which needed to be submitted by Dec. 2.

Kuzas assembled an army of 70 volunteers, including Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and other government workers, who collected about 7,000 signatures — seven times the number he needed.

Mable Taylor turned in 4,807 signatures. But three West Side women — including a member of Burnett’s ward organization who once worked for the secretary of state — challenged Taylor’s petitions. They said most of her signatures were invalid, including signatures collected before the Hardy-Campbell seat officially was declared vacant on Nov. 14.

On Jan. 24, election officials ruled that Taylor had fewer than the 1,000 valid signatures she needed to get on the ballot.

Taylor calls the Hardy-Campbell vacancy “a last-minute thing” that “put certain candidates at a disadvantage.” She sued the Illinois State Board of Elections on March 11 — a week before the primary — saying the state should have given candidates more than 19 days to circulate petitions. Candidates for other offices had 90 days to collect signatures.

But Cook County Judge David Atkins dismissed her case last month.

Rice — who shared an election attorney and campaign workers with Kuzas — won the Democratic primary for the other seventh subcircuit judgeship. She, too, is running unopposed next month. Kuzas, Rice and other newly elected judges will be sworn in Dec. 1.


FROM KOSCHMAN CASE TO SEATS ON BENCH

Two lawyers involved in the investigation of David Koschman’s death have become judges, and three others are in line for seats on the bench:

  • The Illinois Supreme Court appointed Marc W. Martin — who was one of the attorneys for Richard J. “R.J.” Vanecko, a nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley — to a Cook County circuit judgeship on May 1, about three months after Vanecko pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaugher in Koschman’s death.
  • Shauna Boliker Andrews — first assistant to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who opposed the appointment of special prosecutor Dan K. Webb that led to Vanecko’s indictment — was appointed an associate Cook County judge in April. Webb’s team interviewed Boliker.
  • Robert Kuzas — an attorney for police sergeants interviewed by Webb’s team — is a shoo-in for a Cook County judgeship, running unopposed on the November ballot.
  • Webb’s team also interviewed two other top Alvarez assistants — Jack Blakey and John J. Mahoney — who are hoping to become judges. Blakey, Alvarez’s head of special prosecutions, has been nominated by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, for a federal judgeship. And Mahoney, a supervisor in the public corruption unit, is running for a Cook County judgeship in November against attorney Ian Brenson.
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