An Oak Park resident is facing off against a former Oak Parker and one other candidate in a primary battle for judge in Cook County.
Running for a seat on the Cook County bench in the 11th judicial subcircuit are Judge Marc Martin, who grew up in Oak Park; Oak Park resident Catherine Ann Schneider, a legal aid lawyer; and James DiChristofano, an Elmwood Park resident who has a law office in Niles.
Martin, 54, who was appointed judge in May of 2014, is the favorite in the Democratic primary in the subcircuit which includes Oak Park, Maywood, and other suburbs northwest of Oak Park as well as parts of the northwest side of Chicago. Winning the primary is tantamount to election, because there is no Republican candidate.
Appointed judge in 2014, Martin presides over a Rolling Meadows felony courtroom, grew up in Oak Park and graduated from St. Giles School and Fenwick High School. He still has family ties to Oak Park. His father William, who prosecuted mass murderer Richard Speck in 1967, has a law office in Oak Park and his mother and sister live in Oak Park.
Martin is the endorsed candidate of the Cook County Democratic Party and has been rated highly qualified by the Chicago Bar Association.
“Marc is one of the best qualified candidates for judge that we’ve seen in a long time,” said state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), the head of the 11th subcircuit endorsement committee which is made up of Democratic township and ward committeeman in areas included in the subcircuit. “I was quite intrigued by his reputation as a terrific writer. I think that’s a skill that the best judges need to possess and just a deep well of legal experience.”
Unusual for a trial judge, Martin sometimes issues written rulings on contested legal issues.
“I’ll issue a written opinion when there is a novel issue or when there is an issue about which there is a disagreement among courts,” Martin said. “It’s fairly unusual, especially for a criminal court judge to issue written opinions.”
Martin also has the endorsement of Chicago 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke, the chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party’s Judicial Slating Committee, unions and ethnic associations. Schneider also sought the endorsement of the Democratic Party’s endorsement committee.
Schneider, 51, is supervising attorney for the Coordinated Advice and Referral Program for Legal Services (CARPLS), where she supervises a help desk at the Richard J. Daley Center for litigants who represent themselves.
“My drive to become to become a judge is because of these initiatives I’ve been involved in to make the courts more accessible to people who can’t afford lawyers,” Schneider said.
Schneider was found not recommended by the Chicago Bar Association, which conducts interviews with and evaluations of judicial candidates.
“While Ms. Schneider has an outstanding record of public service work, at this stage of her career she lacks the depth and breadth of court experience to serve as an associate judge,” the Chicago Bar Association said in its Green Book of judicial evaluations.
DiChristofano, a resident of Elmwood Park, has been a lawyer since 2004. He had his law license suspended for one month in 2014 because he converted $3,021.10 of a client’s money that was supposed to go to another attorney who worked on the client’s case. DiChristofano was also ordered to complete a professionalism seminar.
DiChristofano did not meet with the Chicago Bar Association or participate in their evaluations. He is also rated as not recommended.
Martin has loaned his campaign $55,100, and had $41,383 on hand as of Dec. 31, 2015, a big financial advantage over Schneider, who had just $13,649.99.
“You need to get the word out there through mailings, through digital advertising, through print advertising,” Martin said. “Those types of things unfortunately are quite expensive.”
Schneider, who has lived in Oak Park for 10 years, is fighting back with the support of neighbors and friends.
“My effort is purely a grassroots effort,” Schneider said. “The more I speak to residents in the subcircuit and in Oak Park, I think they find that the work I do really resonates.”
But Schneider recognizes that Martin will be difficult to beat.
“He’s a strong opponent,” Schneider said. “He has tremendous backing by the party.”
Running for office can be awkward for a sitting judge, Martin said.
“Unfortunately judges are compelled to be politicians during an election cycle,” Martin said. “While there is a lot to be said for merit selection, the democratic process is what is required by our state constitution.”