I’ve never seen anything quite like the character assassination campaign that’s being waged against Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Toomin.
Using misinformation, half-truths and outright whoppers, the Cook County Democratic Party and a hit team of “advocates” are teaming up in an effort to remove Toomin from the bench.
I’d be the first to attest that there are plenty of judges who don’t deserve to wear the robe. But Toomin is not one of them.
In fact, during a 40-year career on the bench, he’s earned a reputation as one of the best, most thoughtful judges in the system, someone who knows the law and follows it without fear or favor.
For the past 10 years, Toomin has served as presiding judge of the Juvenile Court, where he’s assembled a conscientious team of judges who handle some of the most challenging cases in the court system.
Toomin is up for retention in November, and all of the major bar associations agree he deserves to be retained. I hope you’ll take a second to mark the “Yes” by his name before turning in your ballot.
But Cook County Democrats, under party chair Toni Preckwinkle, the Cook County Board president, have other ideas. They’ve singled out Toomin for termination.
They are doing so primarily in retaliation for Toomin embarrassing State’s Attorney Kim Foxx by appointing a special prosecutor to reopen the botched Jussie Smollett investigation. The special prosecutor, former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, further embarrassed Foxx by re-indicting Smollett and issuing a report that, surprise, said Foxx and her office botched the investigation.
By happy coincidence, the Democrats have been joined in their campaign against Toomin by the Judicial Accountability PAC, which made its bones in local politics two years ago by helping take out Judge Matthew Coghlan in its first such alliance with the party.
Brendan Shiller, son of former Ald. Helen Shiller, runs the group, which conducted a lengthy process of its own before deciding to target Toomin.
I accept that Toomin indeed has enemies and detractors beyond the political ones. Notably, though, Shiller’s group did not allow Toomin to respond to the allegations against him.
In another coincidence, someone convinced the influential and respected Chicago Council of Lawyers to blackball Toomin this year, too.
Unlike the Judicial Accountability PAC, though, the lawyers council’s procedures required it to inform Toomin of its preliminary finding and offer him an opportunity to appeal. He did, correcting the misinformation that had been used to smear him, and the council reversed its finding before publishing its ratings.
Rather than repeat the over-the-top slanders from JAPAC and its allies in the Coalition to Toss Toomin, let’s focus on the “evidence” they’ve put forward to justify their attacks.
One of the main complaints is that Toomin wrote an opinion overturning a Preckwinkle-backed county ordinance that sought to prevent children under 13 from being placed in juvenile detention. Toomin ruled that the ordinance exceeded the county’s home-rule powers because it was trumped by a state law that allows children as young as 10 to be locked up.
The Illinois Appellate Court upheld Toomin’s ruling. And the Illinois Supreme Court declined to take the case, which settled the matter from a legal perspective.
I’ve never heard of lawyers personally attacking a judge on the basis of a ruling that was found by higher courts to be proper and lawful just because they didn’t like it. But that’s what’s happening here.
Toomin’s ruling arose from a pair of cases in which judges in his division decided to detain 12-year-old boys facing serious charges who previously had evaded their home electronic-monitoring devices.
The judge’s detractors have spun this into a narrative that Toomin is a racist who doesn’t care about Black and Latino youth. Something they don’t mention: The two judges who made the initial rulings to lock up the boys were African American women. They believed it wasn’t smart to just send the boys back home again.
In his findings, Toomin offered a reasoned and heartfelt explanation for why judges, on rare occasions, would find it necessary to take such an extreme step. He also pointed out the county had not provided the juvenile court with any viable alternatives for handling such situations.
Toomin and his judges have an idea about that, which relates to the next accusation against him — that he “singlehandedly” blocked the county’s participation in Redeploy Illinois, a program that funds alternatives to incarceration.
It’s true the Juvenile Court has been unable to come to an agreement with Redeploy. But Judge Terrence Sharkey, who has served in the juvenile division longer than Toomin, said the disagreement predates Toomin’s tenure.
The problem, Sharkey said, relates to the organization’s requirement that the county reduce the number of offenders put into the state’s juvenile jail system by 25% — or give back the grant money. Sharkey said Cook County judges, who over the past two decades have drastically reduced the number of juveniles placed in detention, did not think they could responsibly make that commitment.
Under Toomin, they suggested that Redeploy fund creation of a respite center — a residential setting where authorities could separate juvenile offenders from their home neighborhoods and be provided with educational and rehabilitative services — as an alternative to sending them to a state youth center. Redeploy rejected the idea.
It seems a shame the two sides can’t get together. But I don’t see how you can blame one person for that.
Another count in the social media indictment against Toomin is that he callously blocked efforts to release young people being held in the county’s juvenile detention center during the early days of the COVID-19.
That’s just not true. After examining the evidence, even the Democratic Party’s hatchet crew backed off that accusation. But it keeps getting repeated.
Both the public defender’s office and the state’s attorney’s office submitted detailed explanations of how Toomin worked closely with their offices to release as many youths as possible from the detention center in an effort to protect from the spread of the coronavirus.
As I said, I’ve never seen anything like the misplaced hit job on Toomin. And I hope never to again.