After 20 years as an attorney, Deidre Baumann is looking to make the leap to the other side of the bench March 20 with a judicial run in the Cook County Circuit Court.
A member of the LGBT community, Baumann has focused much of her career on civil litigation such as employment discrimination, civil rights work and personal injury lawsuits.
Baumann recently sat down with Windy City Times to talk campaigns, high-profile cases and LGBT law.
Windy City Times: You own your own practice, Baumann & Shuldiner. Can you tell us a little more about your legal background?
Deidre Baumann: I started out after law school doing criminal work with the public defender's office, and I really wanted to continue there, but there was a hiring freeze at the time. I was offered a job doing civil workprimarily federal First Amendment lawbefore I was offered a job at the public defender's office, so it was sort of how fate took me.
Doing First Amendment work was fascinating, and then civil rights and employment discrimination work stemmed from that. I loved it. I'm happy with the path I chose.
WCT: You've done a lot of fairly high-profile cases with Chicago Public Schools. How did that come about?
Deidre Baumann: Both of my parents were Chicago public school teachers, so I naturally have an affinity for the difficulties faced by teachers in the public school system. Early on in my practice, I started developing a good client base representing teachersnot only in discrimination cases, but also in a variety of personal injustice cases, personal contract disputes, things like that. My reputation spread amongst the teachers, and my work with employment discrimination just grew from there.
For a time, the unionand this was before the current unionwas not enforcing and protecting the right of the teachers.
WCT: In 2009, you got a lot of press for work you did on the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal. [Three gravediggers and a cemetery manager unearthed and resold more than 200 graves in a moneymaking scheme.] How did that come about?
Deidre Baumann: A longtime client of mine called me up when the story broke. She said they couldn't get into the cemetery and couldn't find family members. My partner and I, the next day, filed the first lawsuit in the circuit court of Cook County, asking that there be temporary injunctive relief entered to protect the families. Within a week, we did get a receiver appointed. I'm proud of that, and for the last two and a half years, I've been working with families to get some monetary relief.
WCT: Why did you decide to run for judge?
Deidre Baumann: I never, from the get-go, thought I wanted to be a judge. I knew since I was a young girlprobably 8 years oldthat I wanted to be a lawyer and help people. I read To Kill a Mockingbird and just thought: That is the quintessential lawyer. That's who I want to be, who I want to emulate.
Until fairly recently, I was very content as an attorney. But I'd seen a lot of injustice, a lot of people being treated, in my view, unfairly. I thought: Well, we ought to do something about it. And [running for judge is] what came to mind. I wanted to make sure everyone coming before my bench receives equal justice under the law.
I don't necessarily want to get into specific examples, but certain courtrooms are so heavily overburdened that litigants aren't given the fair hearing and due process they're entitled to.
WCT: I saw that you ran for judge in 2010 as well. What happened there?
Deidre Baumann: I ran against two formidable candidates, one of whom was slated and heavily supported. I did very well; I came in second and received more than 122,000 votes. I was very happy with that.
WCT: You're an out member of the LGBT community. Do you have a history of activism?
Deidre Baumann: I've done work with the Human Rights Campaign on their annual gala, but I haven't been particularly politically active. I've been focusing in my legal work.
For the Woman's Bar Association, I'm co-chair of the Diversity Committee, so I've done some work in that arena. I've also worked with the Chicago Bar Association on their diversity conference, which dealt with all issues of diversity, including gay rights. Within the legal community, the issue of diversity is very important to me. I'm also a board member of Decalogue Society, which is a society for Jewish lawyers.
WCT: We noticed that the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago (LAGBAC) rated you as "Not Recommended" in the past. This election, you'll be rated as "Not Evaluated." What's your response to the ratings?
Deidre Baumann: The old rating [NR] has expired. I've requested a new evaluation, but never received a response.
WCT: Do you know why LAGBAC issued those ratings?
Deidre Baumann: No. All they say is "thumbs up" or "thumbs down." They don't give you a reason. My girlfriend was really upset about it. [Laughs] I wish I knew.
WCT: Do you think there are any areas of the law where LGBT people are particularly discriminated against?
Obviously, marriage equality is a huge issue. That affects so many different arenas. It affects health law, divorce and dissolution, probate, child custodyyou name it, across the board. It affects tax benefits and federal tax status. In a broad sense, marriage equality is a big issue. There are many different components that come to the floor.
To learn more about Baumann, visit www.deidrebaumannforjudge.com .