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Sparks fly over mayoral residency in Supreme Court candidate forum

Incumbent Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Flannigan

State Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke should have recused herself from a decision about whether her husband’s erstwhile rival Rahm Emanuel could remain on the ballot in last year’s mayoral race, two candidates for state Supreme Court said Monday.

Oh yeah? Well, Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis should have recused herself from the case because she lives on Emanuel’s block, two of Theis’s rival candidates said.

Oh yeah? Well, Appellate Justice Aurelia Pucinski took two “illegal” $10,000 contributions for her campaign and made an improper endorsement in the Clerk of the Court race, Theis answered back.

The brass gavels came out Monday in an Anti-Defamation League forum at the Sidley Austin law firm featuring the four judges and one lawyer running for an open seat on the state Supreme Court.

Former City of Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman boxed the candidates in by asking them if a justice whose wife has a financial interest in a case should recuse himself.

They all said yes.

“In light of your answer to the hypothetical, should Justice Burke have recused herself in the Rahm Emanuel residency case?” Her husband, Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), was backing a rival mayoral candidate.

Democratic lawyer Thomas Flannigan and Republican Judge James Riley said “yes.”

Democratic appellate justices Pucinski and Joy Cunningham said Burke did not need to recuse herself.

“My husband doesn’t tell me what to do – I think Justice Burke is her own person,” Cunningham said.

“Anybody who knows Justice Burke knows that she is independent and makes up her own mind – he can’t tell her what to do,” Pucinski said.

Then Pucinski took it a step further.

“Other individuals should also be asking themselves questions about whether they should have recused themselves,” Pucinski said. “One of the justices on that panel was a neighbor of Rahm Emanuel, And that wasn’t disclosed.”

Emanuel, Theis’ neighbor, is strongly backing Theis for the Supreme Court seat and raising money for her. In a meeting with lawyers at Jenner & Block a few months ago, Emanuel called Theis “my swing vote” on the court, which may be hyperbole as the decision to keep him on the ballot was unanimous.

Cunningham said she agreed Theis should have recused herself.

But Theis said that before Emanuel endorsed her, the only time she ever talked with him was when he brought his kids trick-or-treating to her door.

Theis fired back at Pucinski:

“Last week she received two $10,000 contributions, which are both against her [self-imposed $500] caps and are illegal,” Theis said. “And, secondly, she chose to wade into a partisan election and make an endorsement. In my entire career, I have never seen a judge do anything like that.”

Pucinski said her treasurer “mistakenly” deposited two $10,000 checks from a supporter and his daughter – double the $5,000 limit. But she refunded $5,000 to each of them the next day. Those are loans she has pledged to repay – she is sticking to her $500 self-imposed limit, she said.

Pucinski said when a judge is a candidate in the race, the judicial canons allow the judge to make endorsements. And in the race for Clerk of the Court, Pucinski said she has some expertise.

“Rick Munoz is running against Dorothy Brown, who’s made a mess of that office and I was clerk for 12 years, and I ran a good office,” Pucinski said.

Theis, Cunningham, Pucinski and Flannigan are running in the Democratic primary for the state supreme court seat for Cook County. The winner will face Republican Riley in the fall.