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2 major bar associations find longtime judge unqualified

Two major lawyer groups say voters shouldn’t retain Cook County Judge Daniel Lynch in the elections on Tuesday, pointing to a case in which the Illinois Supreme Court ordered his removal.

The Chicago Council of Lawyers is troubled by Lynch’s “unorthodox uses of judicial discretion,” and the Illinois State Bar Association questions his “judicial temperament.”

The Chicago Council of Lawyers also says Judges Nicholas Ford and Bonita Coleman should not be retained. The group questions Ford’s impartiality and Coleman’s knowledge of the law.

But the Chicago Bar Association, another major lawyer group, is giving a thumbs up to each of the 58 judges seeking to retain their seats — including Lynch, Ford and Coleman.

Those three bar associations all explain their ratings.

Smaller lawyer groups have called for voters not to retain Judges Charles Patrick Burns, Jeanne Cleveland Bernstein, Laurence Dunford, Sharon Johnson, William Maki, Daniel Malone, Sandra Ramos and Irwin Solganick.

The Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening is providing a summary of lawyer groups’ recommendations at http://bit.ly/2f1Zfpe.

In May, the Illinois Supreme Court took the rare step of removing Lynch from a civil case in which he had sentenced a man to six years in prison for contempt of court.

Lynch found that a man who administered an estate, Bengaly Sylla, lied in a lawsuit involving his niece who was hit and killed by a truck in 2007.

The judge unsuccessfully sought to have the Cook County state’s attorney’s office prosecute Sylla for perjury. Then Lynch appointed a private attorney who presented evidence to a jury that Sylla lied about his niece’s rightful heirs. Sylla was found guilty of contempt.

In April, the state appeals court ordered Sylla released on bond pending an appeal.

The Chicago Council of Lawyers said Lynch — a judge since 1998 — is respected for his legal knowledge, preparation and handling of complex cases, but “has reached beyond his immediate role as judge in a particular matter to engage in legal acts that seem to be outside his normal course of deciding a case before him.

“These matters include seeking or having sought to have the attorneys prosecuted for fraud or obstruction. In another matter, the judge unsuccessfully sought to have the Cook County state’s attorney prosecute one of the parties before him. These unorthodox uses of judicial discretion, including criminal contempt charges, are troubling to the council.”

The Illinois State Bar Association said Lynch’s judicial temperament has been called into question in the Sylla case and others.

But the Chicago Bar Association, which has called for Lynch’s to remain on the bench, said he’s “diligent and well regarded for his knowledge of the law, judicial ability and dedication to the justice system.” Ten other bar associations have endorsed Lynch, too.

In explaining why it’s not endorsing Judge Nicholas Ford, the Chicago Council of Lawyers said he’s known for his legal ability and hard work, but two appellate decisions raise “serious concerns about Judge Ford’s ability to try cases in an impartial manner.”

In one case, the state appeals court found Ford improperly expressed personal views in extensive comments during the 2009 sentencing of Michael Pace, who was convicted of killing Blair Holt, the son of a Chicago Police commander.

“No amount of guns and no amount of young punks and no amount of gang members are ever going to find enough dark corners and dark alleys to hide in, because there are way, way more of us than there are of them,” Ford said during the sentencing.

The appeals court threw out Pace’s 100-year sentence because of Ford’s comments. Pace was granted a new sentencing hearing.

The Chicago Council of Lawyers also pointed to the 2011 reversal of Charles Jackson’s murder conviction. Jackson was accused of killing his son-in-law, Pierre Champliss, in 2007. The appeals court found Ford asked a defense witness hostile questions “similar to a cross-examining prosecutor” and relied on evidence outside the trial record. Jackson’s case is pending before another judge.

Eleven bar associations have endorsed Ford, who has served as a judge since 1998.

In calling for voters not to retain Judge Bonita Coleman, the Chicago Council of Lawyers said it was “concerned that many lawyers question Judge Coleman’s knowledge of the law” even though she’s reported to be “professional and courteous on the bench.”

Eleven bar associations have endorsed Coleman, who was first elected in 2010.

Lynch, Ford and Coleman didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Also on Tuesday, 41 candidates in Cook County will vie for 35 vacant seats in the appeals court and circuit court. Most of those candidates are running unopposed. Bar associations have withheld their recommendations from 11 of the candidates.