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ELECTIONS 2024: JUDICIAL IL Supreme Court candidate Jesse G. Reyes on why he's running, judicial diversity
by Carrie Maxwell
2024-02-16

This article shared 6968 times since Fri Feb 16, 2024
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Current First District, Fourth Division Illinois Appellate Court Justice Jesse G. Reyes is running for Illinois Supreme Court Justice. Reyes is running against current Illinois Supreme Court Justice Joy Cunningham in the March 19 primary. Cunningham serves alongside Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis and Justice P. Scott Neville Jr. in the Cook County designated First District.

The Illinois Supreme Court has a 5-2 Democratic majority following the 2022 election victories for Justices Elizabeth Rochford (Second District) and Mary Kay O'Brien (Third District).

Prior to Reyes' current role as the first-ever Latine Illinois Appellate Court Justice, he was a Cook County Circuit Court associate and elected judge who was assigned to the Chancery Division's Mortgage Foreclosure/Mechanics Lien Section, Domestic Violence Court and the Sixth Municipal District. He has been a member of the judiciary since Dec. 1997.

As a lawyer, Reyes represented the Chicago Board of Education and the City of Chicago. He received his B.A. from University of Illinois at Chicago and his J.D. from the John Marshall Law School.

Reyes was raised in Chicago's Pilsen and Bridgeport neighborhoods. He has received numerous awards centered on promoting diversity in the legal profession, including the Chicago Bar Association Justice John Paul Stevens Award; Decalogue Society of Lawyers Charles E. Freeman Judicial Merit Award; Vanguard Award; HLAI Vanguard Award; LAGBAC Foundation Distinguished Jurist Award; LAP Hon. John Crowley Award; and Women's Bar Association of Illinois Mary Heftel Hooton Award.

Additionally, Reyes has been rated highly qualified by the Illinois State Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Association; highly recommended by the Cook County Bar Association, Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois and the Puerto Rican Bar Association; and recommended or qualified by all the other groups that are a part of the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening, including LAGBAC. He also formerly served as the president of the Illinois Judges Association, the Latin American Bar Association and the UIC School of Law Alumni Association.

Whomever wins this primary will be unopposed in the November General Election-There is no Republican running for this seat. Should Reyes win this primary, he would become the first Latine member of Illinois highest court in its history.

Windy City Times: Why did you decide to run for this seat?

Jesse G. Reyes: The Illinois Supreme Court is a two-tiered court that hears cases that everyone is familiar with, and also the creator and implementer of the various rules and regulations we all have to abide by throughout the state, and I want to lend my voice to that. The Illinois Supreme has done some good things, but I think more needs to be done to create access to justice and I know we can do better in Illinois in that regard.

For example, when I was in the traffic court, I helped create a DVD for Spanish and Polish-speaking people, and also young people, advising of their all their rights and the consequences of driving under the influence of any controlled substances.

In the mortgage foreclosure area, I saw that the statute was definitely drafted by the lenders. I created a program that would level the playing field between the homeowner pro se litigants and the lenders' lawyers, to make sure that the people who were representing themselves knew what their rights were. That helped a lot of people save their homes and I took that upon myself to make it happen.

When I became the chair of the executive committee at the appellate court, we reformed some of our internal rules to move the appeals process [to be more] fair for everyone, including official appeals letters being sent out in multiple languages.

With the SAFE-T Act, I brought all the stakeholders together once the Illinois Supreme Court found it constitutional to make sure everybody was on the same page in terms of how we were going to proceed. We found some discrepancies in the forms that the Supreme Court was requiring us to utilize, and particularly the lawyers, and we sent those recommendations to the court who ultimately incorporated them into the forms that are now in use.

I have always been progressive in terms of looking at problems and I want to lend that voice to the Illinois Supreme Court, to be a part of the conversation the court has when it comes to implementing new or modified rules and regulations.

WCT: How has the campaign gone so far?

JR: It's been going well. We are getting support from all over Cook County. Even though I wasn't the slated candidate, we ended up with over 16,000 signatures when we filed our petitions which is many more than the 4,000 that were required. A lot of people were calling us from around the county and asking if we needed any help. This cooperation extended from as far north as Glenview, down to Chicago Heights and into River Forest, and in the city by the lakefront and out to Orland Park. We are really enthused about the support we are getting and have out-raised my opponent in the last quarter. A lot of these contributions are small dollar amounts from everyday people, alongside larger donations from law firms.

WCT: What differentiates you from your Democratic primary challenger Illinois Supreme Court Justice Joy Cunningham?

JR: I tend to be more progressive in the sense of looking at problems and how to address them. I have been on the court for more years than Justice Cunningham in various assignments. When I first started as a circuit court judge, I went to the chief judge and said that if anyone calls in sick, goes on vacation, retires or dies, I would be happy to volunteer and they took me up on that offer in the first few years. This meant that I sat in every branch court in the system. I am willing to get in there and do the work.

Two things I would like to tackle, that haven't been implemented yet by the Illinois Supreme Court, is the way implicit bias is handled by the court system to make it mandatory, not at the discretion of the judge and particularly in the jury setting, and also change instructions so they are gender-neutral.

WCT: How will your current and previous judicial positions and legal representation roles affect the decisions you make should you be elevated to the Illinois Supreme Court?

JR: How is the decision I render, along with my colleagues, going to affect society? For example, in domestic violence court, usually the reason the case was in front of me was because there was an underlying issue. Instead of incarcerating that person, what I would look at was if it would be better if they went to anger management classes under supervision, or rehab for substance abuse, because at the end of the day if they are incarcerated, upon release they will be the same person or even worse. If we can address the problem early then I think that's something that will benefit society.

WCT: Your Facebook campaign page had a post about the importance of having a Latine voice on Illinois's highest court. Can you expand on that a little more?

JR: One of the examples I like to point out is when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was elevated to that court and Justice Thurgood Marshall was still there, when cases involving race would come up, she would get his perspective and lived experience. I grew up in a blue collar neighborhood in a union family, and saw a lot of injustices growing up. This is one of the reasons that propelled me to want to become a lawyer was to help address those injustices. It is not just from the Latine perspective, but other immigrant communities as well. I think it is important to have someone on the Illinois Supreme Court with my lived experience.

WCT: I see that you attended the Equality Illinois gala this year. Why was that important for you to do?

JR: I attend every year. I think it is important to support the LGBTQ community in this way. There has been great advances, but more work still needs to be done. Like I mentioned with the implicit bias jury instructions, among the other issues that need to be addressed that affect the LGBTQ community. I have always attended the Pride Parade. I created the Diversity Scholarship Foundation back when it wasn't popular to talk about diversity and inclusion. We recognized many individuals from the LGBTQ community with awards including Judges Jill Rose Quinn, Mary Rowland and Cecilia Horan and retired Judge Tom Chiola to name a few. It was important for us to do this, and particularly for the college and law school students to see someone like them standing on stage getting this recognition and thinking that could be me some day.

WCT: Are there any endorsements you want to highlight?

JR: I am very proud of the fact that I am the people's candidate. Having the endorsement of the people means a lot to me.

WCT: What else would you like voters to know about you?

JR: I am very active on and off the bench. I believe in being a public servant in all aspects of my life. I am involved with a lot of organizations including the LAGBAC Foundation, because I think it is important to support each other. We all have the same concerns and issues and want opportunities to obtain our goals and so I think if we can help each other along the way that is the best thing we can do for one another. I have had the opportunity to marry a lot of gay couples and that gives me a lot of pleasure, to see a loving couple that want to be together. This is one of the best parts of my job.

See justicereyes.com/ and facebook.com/JesseforIllinois/ .

NOTE: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


This article shared 6968 times since Fri Feb 16, 2024
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