Judge Jean M. Cocozza, appointed as an Associate Judge, has no courtroom experience as a defense lawyer, as a prosecutor or as a litigator of any kind. No bar association had independently evaluated her work to see whether she was fit to be a judge, and she had not appeared before any judicial screening committee.
But Jane M. Cocozza is a former Clerk for a well-connected IL Supreme Court Justice Charles Freeman who regularly helps his cronies, specially his clerks, to obtain judicial seats like Judge Cynthia Y. Cobbs. who was appointed twice, also without prior court experience; while she was at odds with the state’s constitution over her residency requirements in Will County. At the time of her new appointment, Judge Cobb was serving by appointment to the countywide Simmons, Jr. vacancy. (Jessica A. O’Brien* has been elected to this vacancy) In appointing Judge Cobb to the Barbara McDonald vacancy, the Illinois Supreme Court terminated Cobb’s appointment to the Simmons, Jr. vacancy.
Another Justice Freeman’s pick was Judge Sheldon A. Harris whom Freeman had recommended for a judgeship in 2000.”Another bad way to pick judges“. Freeman has an extensive track record of backing political cronies for the bench. Some were merely incompetent. Two drew the attention of federal investigators, who questioned whether money and political connections helped them secure appointments, including Edward Vdrolyak’s crony. (Vrdolyak was implicated in the case of former Cook County Circuit Court Judge George J.W. Smith, who pleaded guilty to that Prosecutors claimed the transactions were in furtherance of an alleged bribe paid to a “go-between” in order to secure Smith’s appointment. Smith was reportedly appointed by Freeman based on Vrdolyak’s recommendation, leading to speculation that Vrdolyak was the alleged “go-between”). One of Justice Freeman’s nominees went to prison. Justice Freeman’s well-connected son, Kevin L. Freeman, since 2003 serves on Illinois Property Tax Appeal Board where Mr. Michael Madigan and Mr. Edward Burke, husband to IL Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke (who is responsible for judicial selections), reduce property taxes for their wealthy friends.
Cocozza’s connections with Justice Freeman were powerful to overbid 282 candidates seeking one of six associate judge positions in the Circuit Court of Cook County.
Cocozza was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to the Circuit Court of Cook County in on January 14, 2013, to replace Jesse G. Reyes for a term that expired in December of 2014. However, Cocozza was not considered to run to fill Reyes vacancy.
Instead Cocozza was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Noreen Love in November 2014. Noreen Love was a judge of the Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois. She was appointed to the court in June 2002 and elected that November. She initially filed to run for retention in 2014, but withdrew on August 21, 2014; and left behind at least 6 years of judicial pay and benefits worth about $1.2 million. She retired from the bench on November 30, 2014., or immediately when a well-connected clerk Cocozza needed a vacant judicial seat.
Worth to mention, suddenly retired Judge Noreen Love’s vacancy won another candidate, well-qualified Brendan O’Brian, during 2016 election.
Shortly after Brendan O’Brian won Love’ judicial seat, his wife, Jessica O’Brian, *(judge from 2012, who, bear to repeat, was elected to fill judge Simmons, Jr where Cynthia Cobbs, also Justice Freeman’s clerk, was assigned ) was indicted in purported 2007 “mortgage fraud”, despite beyond questionable charges and expired statutes of limitations, or after Jessica O’Brian twice crossed Justice Freeman clerks’ paths to positions of public trust.
Cocozza was reappointed in April 2016 to a term expiring on June 30, 2019. She currently is assigned to the Paternity and Child Support Section of the Domestic Relations Division. Cocozza had no experience as a defense lawyer, prosecutor or litigator, but when Freeman recommended her for judgeship the other justices agreed to appoint her to the circuit court.[6
By Tribune: “When the Illinois Supreme Court acted to fill a vacancy on the Cook County bench this year, it looked no further than the chambers of one of its own — Justice Charles Freeman. There the high court found law clerk Jean Cocozza.
Cocozza got her law degree in 1989, but she has no courtroom experience as a defense lawyer, as a prosecutor or as a litigator of any kind, according to her work history. Half of Cocozza’s resume is devoted to talking about her service with her building‘s condominium association and with her church parish.
No bar association had independently evaluated her work to see whether she was fit to be a judge, and she had not appeared before any judicial screening committee.
She did, however, have the advantage of working for Freeman. She had been his senior law clerk for the past 15 years, according to her resume, with duties including writing drafts of opinions and court orders, and “exercising general supervisory authority over the chamber’s staff.”
Freeman recommended Cocozza for a judgeship. The court in January agreed and named her a full Circuit Court judge, filling a vacancy created when another judge was elected to the Appellate Court.
Cocozza’s state salary jumps from $123,000 a year to about $182,000. On a recent workday, the 48-year-old could be found in traffic court, looking over the shoulder of a more experienced judge who was teaching her the ropes.
Cocozza declined to comment for this story.
Joseph Tybor, spokesman for the Illinois Supreme Court, defended the decision to make Cocozza a judge.
“This is the appointment you’re getting worked up about?” Tybor wrote in an email response to questions. “More than 15 years as the senior law clerk to the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court? She’s worked on thousands of cases and motions covering virtually every area of Illinois law. There aren’t many attorneys in the state who know more about more aspects of Illinois law than she.”
Tybor acknowledged that no bar association evaluated Cocozza, nor had any committee screened her qualifications.
The Chicago Council of Lawyers, which has evaluated state judges since 1970, was critical of the process that led to Cocozza’s selection.
“The process used to fill these vacancies needs to be transparent, and the resulting judges should take the bench after having substantial experience in litigation matters,” said Malcolm Rich, the group’s executive director. “Every candidate for a judicial vacancy should be reviewed by both the bar associations and by a judicial selection commission — an approach used by most of the Illinois Supreme Court justices.”
Thomas Boleky, head of the Chicago Bar Association’s judicial committee, said that in evaluating judges, his group considers a number of factors, including experience and time spent in the courtroom. Typically, he said, his group likes to see potential judges with at least 12 years of experience as a “practicing lawyer.”
“We want someone who has practical experience — not only research and writing — but practical experience in court,” Boleky said. “Appearing in front of a judge and trying cases is great.”
Neither Boleky nor Rich would comment about Cocozza.
The Tribune has previously spotlighted the high court’s mysterious and controversial appointments, which included making another onetime Freeman law clerk a judge even though she didn’t live in Cook County, Cynthia Cobbs,
The Illinois Constitution gives the Supreme Court the power to fill judicial vacancies through temporary appointments. But in contrast to judicial elections, the court’s appointments largely are done with little public input.
Traditionally, the three Democratic justices from Chicago — Freeman, Anne Burke and Mary Jane Theis — take turns recommending lawyers to fill openings that may occur because of election to another court, retirement, illness or death.
Unlike Burke and Theis, though, Freeman does not have a screening committee to help him in selecting lawyers.
Tybor said Cocozza’s appointment without any kind of screening was unusual.
“Justice Freeman makes his recommendations after candidates go through the evaluation processes of the bar associations, except in rare cases when the talents and abilities of the person are well-known to him and the court,” Tybor said.
Competition for a spot on the bench is fierce. In September 2011, for instance, nearly 240 lawyers were on a waiting list for just six openings.
Theis in February formed a 14-member committee that is co-chaired by a retired federal judge to help her in selecting judges. The committee will screen applicants after they have been evaluated by various bar associations, then will forward its recommendations to her.
Tybor said Theis, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2010 and elected last November, previously had submitted the names of potential judges to local bar associations for evaluation.
Herbert Kritzer, a University of Minnesota Law School professor, said having judges go before the voters came about to reduce the control of officials who had appointment power. In Illinois, he said, appointing judges is a “partisan political process.”
“Is it unusual that those who have appointment power use it to reward people who have been political supporters or who have worked for them? The answer is no,” Kritzer said.
Freeman, elected to the Supreme Court in 1990, had spent the early part of his career as a prosecutor and as a lawyer to the Illinois State Board of Elections, according to his court biography. He was a general practitioner for about 15 years before being elected to the Circuit Court in 1976, and his career highlights include swearing in Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor.
Freeman’s tenure on the court has not been without controversy.
Most notable was the 2000 criminal case against then-Circuit Court Judge George J.W. Smith, appointed on Freeman’s recommendation. The FBI investigated whether Smith paid $30,000 to a former politician to arrange for Smith’s appointment.
Smith pleaded guilty to evading federal cash-reporting requirements but has never said whether he used the money to buy his judgeship. A federal judge found Smith’s ex-wife’s claim that he bought the judgeship to be credible and sent him to prison.
FBI agents interviewed Freeman as part of their investigation. He was not accused of any wrongdoing.
Another controversy involved lawyer Sheldon Harris, whom Freeman had recommended for a judgeship in 2000. Harris drew the attention of the FBI after his sons made $50,000 in political donations to Democrat Lisa Madigan during her successful run for attorney general, while he received special campaign help from her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. The FBI’s inquiry did not lead to any charges.
Harris, who was seeking election to a full term after his appointment, lost in 2002.
Still, he remains a Supreme Court favorite. He has been reappointed repeatedly to the bench, including to a position in January on the Appellate Court.
In stories in 2011 and 2012, the Tribune documented the Supreme Court’s practice of keeping politically connected judges on the Cook County bench after they were rejected at the polls by voters.
According to the Tribune’s analysis, those who benefited the most were active Democrats. One had given more than $20,000 to the county Democratic Party, and others had ties to powerful Chicago Democrats, including to Michael Madigan and Ald. Edward Burke, the husband of Justice Burke.
Those judicial candidates weren’t the only Democrats elevated to the Circuit Court. The Supreme Court last year reappointed three judges who had dropped out of judicial races to make room for the party’s favored candidates.
And in October 2011, the Tribune reported that the court appointed Cynthia Cobbs — another former Freeman law clerk — to fill a Cook County vacancy although she lived in Will County.
Legal experts said the court’s appointment of Cobbs was at odds with the state’s constitution over residency requirements. Her term was to expire in December.”
Illinois Supreme Court picks justice’s law clerk to be Cook County judge
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