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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



VIEWPOINT: Judge Pethers explains leaving the bench
by Sherry Pethers

This article shared 1417 times since Fri Aug 5, 2016
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What follows is a letter from Judge Sherry Pethers, the first open lesbian elected to a judicial seat in the Chicago area. Pethers wrote this letter in response to the public report on an original letter she sent just to her colleagues and friends July 12, explaining her reasons for not seeking retention as a judge in Cook County. Below this first letter we are printing her complete original letter.

In July, I wrote an e-mail about my retirement to friends, family and colleagues—fellow members of the LGBT judges association and the judges who were first elected with me in 2004. I did not care how many other judges or interested parties saw it; I did not, however, intend for it to be published in a newspaper. Unfortunately, someone leaked it to the press, and an article was written about it for the Chicago Sun-Times. I am now feeling Hillary Clinton's email pain.

To be sure, whatever wounds I have suffered in the process, many of them are self-inflicted. I was quite candid, as I am prone to be, and that left me open to having my words misinterpreted and taken out of context. I own that mistake.

I was contacted by the reporter but there was no sense of urgency given. Nor did he tell me Chief Judge Timothy Evans had commented on it. So, when the story appeared in the newspaper the next morning, my side of the story was not included. I never dreamed I would have the need to defend myself. But between the reporter and Judge Evans, they tore my wounds wide open.

Even now that I have this opportunity to respond, I choose not to get into a contest with Judge Evans about who is telling the truth. As a colleague told me, Judge Evans is running in an election to be selected chief judge once again, and seeks retention in November. Thus, he feels I have attacked him. Although I never intended to inject myself and my dissatisfaction with my assignment into his campaign( s ), I understand he thinks he has to say certain things in his own defense.

I leave it to others to judge ( pun intended ) whether politics plays any role in: 1 ) who gets what assignment in Cook County; and 2 ) who has any chance of becoming an associate judge. I also leave it to readers of Judge Evans' response to decide whether it would make any sense for me to tell my supervising judge I no longer wanted to be assigned to the Law Division, and would rather stay in my current assignment—the one I think is so "boring."

But I do take issue with Judge Evans' suggestion that I "did not appreciate having an assignment in which [I] could help to resolve issues involving matters that were crucial to the lives of people who needed her help." From there, he went on to strongly imply that, because I have been left to handle mostly "minor" cases, I have not taken them or the people involved in them seriously.

Conflating two unrelated issues is, at best, an example of illogical thinking. Saying you have not felt intellectually challenged by the cases you hear does not equate to not caring about the litigants and issues presented. Frankly, I think any honest person would have to admit to being bored handling more than a hundred credit card debt cases and the like all day long, day after day.

Despite the "routine" nature of many of the cases I handle, I understand that each and every one of those matters is extremely important to those involved in them. For that reason, I have always given my full attention to them and treated the litigants with respect.

I cannot adequately express how much I resent Judge Evans' suggestion to the contrary. It is not that I did not appreciate being a judge; I did not appreciate the lack of any opportunity to advance my judicial career and to apply my particular skills in more demanding areas.

I have three other concerns about this controversy. First, I worry that readers will see these stories and decide "all judges are corrupt" or some such thing and then vote not to retain them in November. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most judges are good, hard-working and fair. It is the system that is broken, not them. Please read the judicial ratings ( some of which are political, too, by the way ) and vote accordingly, particularly against those few judges all the bar associations agree are bad apples. Please, please retain all the others.

Second, let me remind everyone that Judge Evans has always been a strong, reliable supporter of LGBT judges and our community. Nothing I've said or anyone else says can diminish that.

Finally, I am concerned that the things I said about being "bored out of my mind," etc., could make many people who worked on my campaign in 2004 think I did not appreciate their efforts or that I did not value my work and the opportunity to do it. I am more grateful than you will ever know. I was simply voicing my personal frustrations with the system and expressing my reasons for retiring somewhat early.

I'm a firm believer that some things are "meant to be." Maybe it was a good thing, after all, that someone thought my note should be made public and did what I did not have the courage to do myself. As cynical as I can be, I doubt things will change, at least anytime soon. But hope springs eternal.

Thank you, everyone, for your support. I was truly honored to be elected by you.

Below is the original letter Judge Pethers sent to her colleagues:

Friends: I have officially given notice—I will not seek retention and instead will retire December 2 at the end of my term.

This decision, although not too difficult, has been a long time in the making. I had originally planned on a year or two from now.

But there is a log home in the Northwoods of Wisconsin calling my name.

So, I started thinking about it. At first, I thought I'd seek retention and decide whether to move up the date after that. Then I chose not to be evaluated by the bar associations, knowing that I would be found "not qualified" and simply let the voters decide for me, you know, as some kind of omen. But then I realized very few people look at those ratings, and I'd probably be retained anyway. Then what? And I needed to put on my big girl pants and make the call myself, so Clair and I can make plans.

Maybe I would have retired this early no matter what. Still, I wonder if I would hear the call from "up north" so loudly if I were more satisfied with my job. I never thought I would refer to being a judge as a "job," but it feels that way. I have spent 12 years throwing people out of their homes in evictions, placing judgments against poor people who cannot pay their credit card and student loan debts, and dealing with lousy insurance companies in fender-bender car accident cases. And the occasional breach of contract, slip and fall or dog bite.

I always thought being a judge would be more challenging. But I am bored out of my mind. In my current assignment, I do get to sink my teeth into some substantive motions—on afternoons every other week. That takes all of about 2-3 hours a day, including both the reading and hearing.

All I ever wanted was to go the Law Division, where I spent my entire career as an attorney. But that was never going to happen. And I should have known that from the start. I was so naive. A well-known "mover and shaker" told me when I was campaigning that, if I thought an election was political, "wait until you're a judge—there's no place in Chicago more political than that." I didn't understand that then, but I sure do now.

For years, I have watched folks elected long after me get assignments I wanted. Some of them, although not on the bench as long as me, were at least qualified for the positions. Others, not so much.

Colleagues always told me to talk to Judge Evans, like they did. He never once returned my calls. When I complained a bit about that, his assistant told me to write him and tell him what assignment I would like, and then she'd set up a meeting. I wrote. Never heard a word. Called to set up a meeting. Never got a call back.

Being "nobody who nobody sent" doesn't cut it. And because of that, qualifications and experience don't either.

I'm not saying I'm God's gift to the law, but, hey, I can think my way through some complicated issues. "I coulda been a contender!"

And I'm also not trying to go overboard on the sour grapes. Yes, my experience has been demoralizing ( especially when there are judges who regularly don't even come to work, but get to choose their courtrooms ), but it's had its real upsides, too. Good pay, great benefits, lots of vacation. Even as a "job," it's the best one I've ever had.

There have been gratifying moments, too. Toward the end of my "career" here, I had the pleasure of working with Jim Snyder and Jerry Esrig, a couple of smart, wonderful men. I always enjoyed helping pro se litigants understand the system and explaining the law to them. ( That's not to say there weren't some who drove me almost as nuts as they were! ). And I liked settling cases and helping people resolve their disputes.

But it's not enough to keep me here. Time to move on while I'm still young enough to hike, canoe and kayak and even wield a chainsaw.

— Signed, Sherry

This article shared 1417 times since Fri Aug 5, 2016
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