Although she started late in the game, Joanne Fehn, known as Joey by her friends, has been working hard to gain a position as Cook County Judge.
Recently she spoke with the Windy City Times by the fireplace in her northwest Chicago home. She discussed her life, why she's running and what it's like as an out lesbian running for office.
Windy City Times: Could you tell our readers a little bit about your employment history and what qualifies you as a judge?
Joanne Fehn: I've been a practicing lawyer in Cook County 15 years. I started out with a real-estate developer and his wife. [ We ] did a lot of building violation cases and license cases, and then invariably a lot real estate work and a lot of corporate work. From there, I was hired by Chicago Title Insurance Company. I was a title person; I worked on major commercial transactions. I worked on a lot of complex real estate deals during my tenure there. From there I was hired as general council of Anchor Companies, I've been there ever since. We do a lot of intervention with distressed real estate and we do a lot of litigation.
WCT: How long have you been in that position?
JOANNE FEHN: Since 2001.
WCT: How does this give you experience as a judge?
JOANNE FEHN: It doesn't necessarily give me experience as a judge. I'm not a sitting judge. What it does give me is an extremely broad range of legal experience. I'm not tied to one area. We're involved in a lot of federal statutory issues, we're involved in a lot of state issues. In the practice that I engage in, I have to be able to see both sides and be able to have an expansive view of both sides to be able to get to the end result.
WCT: How do you think that being a lesbian is going to affect your candidacy?
JOANNE FEHN: That never even entered my mind. It's just part of who I am. I don't know if it's going to affect it negatively or positively. As a gay person I've suffered and experienced discrimination. I am who I am today because of my life experiences. But when you want to be a judge and serve the public, and that means all the public, my issues have to stay in my office. Once I step into the courtroom I'm a public servant, and I'm there to hear each side of the story and review evidence. That's my goal, that's my commitment to the people of Cook County.
WCT: In [ judicial ] elections, very few people come out to vote compared to, say, Obama's election. How do you think that makes it more challenging for you to run?
JOANNE FEHN: A lot of people say, "Why do we elect judge when we don't really know who judges are?" The other side of the coin is "How can we not elect them, we have to elect judges because that's our checks and balances of the system." The process has its benefits, but it also has some negativity because there's not a lot of attention paid to judicial candidates. There's not a lot of coverage in the media for judicial candidates. If you want to find out about candidates you have to sort of do your own research.
WCT: Is there any one community you are hoping to pull votes from or is it more spread out demographic wise?
JOANNE FEHN: Obviously I live on the northwest side, and I am community-based person. I do a lot of community work, so this being my home base I would hope to garner a lot of votes from the communities I've assisted and worked with. I am certainly hoping to get the gay and lesbian vote. It is an entire countywide race, so we're working very diligently on getting a good cross-section of voters involved.
WCT: What inspired you to run for this position?
JOANNE FEHN: Well, I have a lot of friends, and we get around and we talk and we try to save the world. [ Chuckles ] We say what, if we were doing the job, could be done better. I've had a lot of [ court ] cases where I just could not fathom the rulings. I used to be able to say that I can see how the judge came to their conclusion. But there have been a few in the last few years where I was thinking to myself, 'These rulings are goofy.' [ I was inspired to fun because I was ] tired of just sitting on the sofa just complaining about what's going on in life.
WCT: When did you enter the race?
JOANNE FEHN: I announced my candidacy in late August.
WCT: Why so late?
JOANNE FEHN: I had always wanted to be a judge since I took my attorney's oath. I was talking with colleagues of mine, [ and they ] said that there we seven vacancies. This was probably in May. I thought about it, and I went to my alderman and said I was really interested. I got a call from him in August, to say, "Can you come down to Cook County democratic organization office and announce your candidacy?" It was like then and there. [ That day ] I marched downtown and announced my candidacy and presented my credentials. It ended up that I was not the slated [ Democratic ] candidate. The issue then became in order to run I had to have a required number of signatures on petitions. We were required to get 3,268 signatures. The committee ended up coming back with just under 6,000 signatures. It was all very methodical.
WCT: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
JOANNE FEHN: I've had a very good life. I'm very blessed. Life is difficult, bad things happen. Even in spite of all of that, we pick up the mantle and fight the good fight every day.