James Shapiro says he wants to be the gay candidate in his race. The only problem is that Shapiro is actually straight.
Shapiro is running for the 8th Judicial Subcircuit of the Cook County Circuit Court, a vacancy left by the first openly gay candidate to be elected in Illinois, Thomas Chiola.
NOTE: View downloadable election guide charts at the following link. This election chart was updated online on Tuesday March 13 with corrections and updates. www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/WCT_2012_primarychartsforweb.pdf .
Shapiro has been courting the LGBT community at events throughout the city, and he admits that sometimes his stated progressive views get him into hot water.
He graduated from Trinity College in 1981 and then attended law school at William and Mary. He was a former assistant U.S. attorney and a special assistant attorney general. The Illinois Supreme Court appointed him to the bench almost five years ago. Now, he's running in a tight race to remain a judge.
Shapiro sat down with Windy City Times to talk about why being a judge matters to him, why he sees LGBT equality as a simple matter of fairness and how he handles moments when the law conflicts with his personal beliefs.
Windy City Times: So James, you are a judge currently running to stay on the bench. Why do you want to stay on the bench?
James Shapiro: The only reason that I really wanted to do this joband I'm dead serious about this; it's a little bit cornywas to be a good judge, meaning a fair judge, a judge just intelligent enough to be educable but not so intelligent as to lawyer the cases for the attorneys and to have a good judicial temperament.
WCT: How did you get into law?
James Shapiro: I was a philosophy major in college, actually a philosophy and history double major in college. There wasn't that much to do with philosophy and history other than go to law school. I thought that law school would be the closest thing to graduate school in philosophy, and to some extent, it was. In other respects, it was a lot more practical than philosophy.
WCT: You have been at a lot of LGBT events, but you don't identify as LGBT.
James Shapiro: I do not identify as LGBT, no. But I identify with the LGBT community. I know that the LGBT community is a disadvantaged community in terms of the lawin terms of not having equal rights as we all know, in terms of not having equal marriage, in terms of the employment non-discrimination act, which still remains pending in congress. In terms of fairness and my sense of fairness, I really don't think anyone should be discriminated against, especially on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. I can't hide my views on that because this is a matter of fairness and justice to me, and this is why I went into law to begin with.
WCT: Are you active in LGBT causes?
James Shapiro: I'm the first straight director of the Alliance of Illinois Judges. I'm really proud of that fact. Also, I'm on the board of PFLAG … not because either of my kids are gay to my knowledge, I don't know that yet, but because I'm sensitive to the issue of gay kids needing to be supported by their parents. I presented on civil unions last fall for PFLAG, and it was very well received. I do civil unions, and the price is right because sitting judges are not allowed to charge for weddings and civil unions. I've given up doing private straight weddings because it was becoming very time-consuming and onerous. Now, I only do private civil unions.
WCT: In what areas do you think the law discriminates against LGBT people?
James Shapiro: Obviously, equal marriage is the big issue of today, that LGBTQ folks don't have the opportunity for the tax benefits and other spousal benefits that straight couples do, even under civil unions.
WCT: Have you had a moment as a judge where you had to rule against your personal beliefs?
James Shapiro: Well, I can't think of a real example offhand, but I can think of examples where I may have felt sorry for the little guy, maybe a pro se plaintiff ( representing oneself, instead of using a lawyer ) in civil court or a pro se defendant in criminal court or traffic court, where the law required me to arrive at a different result than the one that I might have preferred if I were to follow my sympathies. But I follow the law. I'm sworn the follow the law, and I do.
WCT: What is the bottom line for you in this race? Why vote Shapiro?
James Shapiro: The bottom line is that I'm the most qualified candidate in my race. I have three times the judicial experience as my nearest rival. I have more legal experience and more varied legal experience than all of my opponents. I'm the only former assistant U.S. attorney in the race. I can and do sit in both civil and criminal cases. Personally, my views are pretty progressive … but I'm able to put those views aside on ruling on cases when the law is clear, in order to follow the law.
See www.judgeshapiro.org .