Besides voting out a sitting judge on Tuesday for the first time since 1990, Cook County voters also elected a Democrat to be a judge for the northwest suburban 13th “subcircuit” for the first time since the county established subcircuits in 1992.

The new judge? Shannon P. O’Malley.

The name might not be familiar because Judge O’Malley was going by his old name, Phillip Spiwak, when he unsuccessfully ran, as a Republican, for a judicial seat in Will County in 2010.

Irish-sounding names have long given Cook County judicial candidates an electoral edge. It also might not have hurt that O’Malley’s first name is gender-neutral in a year when Democratic women won elections up and down the ballot.

Shannon P. O'Malley.

Shannon P. O’Malley. | Injustice Watch

O’Malley, a Hoffman Estates lawyer who changed his name in 2012, didn’t respond to messages left at his office about his name change.

He won by nearly 2,300 votes over Republican Daniel Fitzgerald despite failing to get the recommendations of bar associations after declining to submit information about his qualifications.

“No judicial candidate should be elected if they refused to be evaluated by all bar groups who are evaluating,” says Malcolm Rich, executive director of the Chicago Council of Lawyers, one of the groups that rates judicial candidates.

In 2010, Albert Klumpp did a study that found judicial candidates with Irish- and female-sounding names in Cook County had an advantage, particularly in primaries or retention votes. But Klumpp says it’s more likely that O’Malley won not because of switching names but because he switched parties.

“I found that 90 percent of the vote in these November partisan races for judgeships is determined purely by party identification,” Klumpp says.

Candidates in Cook County changing their names to Irish-sounding names happened often enough that the Illinois legislature passed a law requiring that a candidate’s old name also be listed on the ballot if the name change was made within three years before the election.

Injustice Watch logoAbigail Bazin reports for Injustice Watch, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit journalism organization that conducts in-depth research to expose institutional failures that obstruct justice and equality.

Contributing: Emily Hoerner