Illinois has a long, storied history of corruption and insider favoritism that continues to this day. One of the earliest glimpses into the pervasive culture of public corruption in the Illinois judiciary was exposed in 1985 by what would become the longest and most successful undercover operation in FBI history. The comprehensive investigation, called Operation Greylord, ultimately became the “largest corruption bust ever” in the United States and exposed a dark and complex political machine of backroom dealing that still exists in the Illinois judiciary to this day.
In 1980, the FBI launched an undercover investigation, called Operation Greylord, into judicial corruption in Cook County. The massive and complex operation involved unprecedented actions such as wiretapping judges’ conversations and using undercover agents posing as lawyers and defendants to get an inside view of the judicial system.1 After a three year investigation, 15 judges, 47 lawyers, and 24 other court and law enforcement personnel were ultimately convicted in what has been described as the “longest and most successful undercover investigation” in FBI history. Operation Greylord gave the public its first in-depth glimpse into a judicial system that places the protection of the well-connected ahead of justice for all and uncovered years of rampant public corruption in Illinois.
Some of the same insiders who built and benefited from this judicial system remain in positions of power and are still the targets of public corruption investigations to this day. For instance, powerful Chicago Machine politician and attorney, Ed Burke, who federal prosecutors described as “thoroughly corrupt and worthy of prosecution” after announcing a 14-count corruption indictment in 2019, is married to none other than Anne Burke, the sitting Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. According to a recent WBEZ Chicago investigation, at the same time her husband was engaging in corrupt behavior, Chief Justice Anne Burke served on the highest court in Illinois, and her judicial decisions and those she helped shape “spared some of her husband’s clients from significant financial and legal risk . . .” Worse still, Ed Burke has controlled the judicial system in Cook County because he has “handpick[ed] judges for the [Cook County Democratic] party” for decades. According to observers, all judges appointed in Cook County “owe [Burke] their jobs . . .” Alderman Burke’s reign atop the party and his position influencing judicial appointments goes all the way back to the days of Operation Greylord, including the appointment of Anne Burke to the Appellate Court in 1995 and eventually to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2006.
Operation Greylord’s success paved the way for further corruption investigations, but more work needs to be done to end the corrupt culture that has existed for decades. The Judicial Fairness Project is working to shed light on and ultimately break up the system that has allowed corrupt politicians like Ed Burke to influence the judiciary in Illinois.
"There are judges who believe that because they're wearing a robe that no one can touch them." — Dan Webb, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, 1981–851
Public corruption, DUI charges, and even blatant racism have all gone largely unnoticed and unpunished for Illinois judges. For example, 11 Illinois Judges? have been charged with DUI in recent years, and none were suspended or removed with all but one receiving the lowest possible punishment. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens pay extraordinary consequences for their reckless illegal behavior.
Other complaints of vile and racist remarks from judges have simply been dismissed without any reprimand. For example, former DuPage County Judge John Teschner once said to a defendant, “If I send you to the penitentiary, five minutes after you're there, some 6-foot-5 colored fellow is going to have you as his piece of meat.”
This type of unacceptable behavior cannot be tolerated in the Illinois judiciary or elsewhere in state government. For real reform to occur, we must demand better from our courts, for the sake of all Illinoians. The Judicial Fairness Project is working to make this happen. Join us today and learn what you can do to help.
“For three decades, Illinois’ system for disciplining judges has been something of an inside joke.”1
In an attempt to curb problems in the justice system, the Illinois Courts Commission was established to evaluate complaints and determine disciplinary actions against Illinois judges. Since its creation, the Commission has disciplined far fewer judges than similarly-sized states, removing just 10 judges in the last 50 years!2,3 In fact, the Illinois Courts Commission has decided just 24 cases since 2000.4 Judges who fixed cases, illegally intervened with police work, made racist remarks, and even denied defendants their rights to a jury all walked away with minimal to no reprimand. In fact, more than half of the complaints brought up since 2000 were dismissed or given just a simple reprimand.
Illinois is nationally known for its lack of judicial accountability. Gerald Stern, a founder of the Association of Judicial Disciplinary Counsel and longtime administrator of New York's judicial disciplinary system said experts in the field have “marveled at some of the results of the (Illinois) Courts Commission.”5
Judicial accountability advocates have even publicly questioned whether the Illinois Courts Commission is serving the public interest. In just one example, Robert P. Cummins, former chairman of the Judicial Inquiry Board, publicly stated, “I think the typical informed member of the public . . . would scratch their head and say, ‘My goodness, what does it take to really be disciplined?'"6
Indeed, looking at just a few of the most egregious examples of dismissed complaints,? it’s fair to say that the general public would be outraged if they only knew what a judge can get away with in Illinois. The average person would never be held to the same lax standards of justice, and that’s downright wrong. We must demand more from our judicial system in Illinois. The Judicial Fairness Project is fighting to hold all judges to the highest standards of impartiality, integrity, and justice. Join us today and learn what you can do to help.
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Justice Ware was slated, elected and served on Cook County Circuit Court until his retirement in 2003
Winnebago County Associate Judge Steven Vecchio allegedly intervened in a number of matters involving police action on behalf of his personal friends and acquaintances, using his position as judge to affect or influence police conduct. 7 Complaint dismissed by the Illinois Courts Commission with no consequences imposed.
In a case of ghost payrolling from the bench, St. Clair County Circuit Judge Roger Scrivner was charged with paying jurors for days when they did not attend court or deliberate merely because they were voters. When asked about his motive, Scrivner simply responded: ‘You know, to put your best foot forward in front of these jurors. These are your voters out there.’8 Complaint dismissed by the Illinois Courts Commission with no consequences imposed.
A complaint charged that Cook County Associate Judge Charles A. Alfano assaulted a police officer issuing a traffic citation to his son. The judge first tried to convince the officer not to issue a citation to his son, and after he was unsuccessful, he became angry and verbally abused and is alleged to have physically assaulted the officer.9 Complaint dismissed by the Illinois Courts Commission with no consequences imposed.
Cook County Judge Arthur Rosenblum allegedly used his position as a judge to improperly influence criminal proceedings against a former tenant in a building he owned, and when prosecutors said jurors would not be told he was a judge if the case went to trial, the judge specifically stated that he hoped the jury would know he was a judge before the jury decided the defendant’s fate.10 Complaint dismissed by the Illinois Courts Commission with no consequences imposed.
Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Close allegedly derided multiple nationalities, be it those ‘limey Britishers’ or Yugoslavians, whom he called ‘not (the) greatest citizens in the United States.’ Danish women, the judge suggested, are easy. In dismissing a home-invasion charge, he said he could believe that a woman of Danish heritage would have invited the defendant home and demanded sex.11 Complaint dismissed by the Illinois Courts Commission with no consequences imposed.
a. Stating: “But the process at its core remains a political one in which proven loyalty to the party outweighs legal credentials.” 1
a. From 2003 to 2011, Madigan recommended 37 lawyers to be appointed associate judges and 25 were selected.
b. Half of the lawyers recommended by Madigan had contributed to his daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
a. The changes approved by the legislature were projected to save the state $160 Billion over 30 years and erase a $100 Billion pension shortfall.
b. The pension legislation raised the retirement age for some employees, capped pensionable salaries, and limited cost-of-living increases.
c. “Unions representing current and retired employees sued, arguing that the changes violated the state's pension clause…”
a. “The decision, written by Justice Anne Burke, rejected a lower court’s ruling that found the 2007 law violated the Illinois Constitution’s prohibition against special legislation.”
b. At issue in the case was a law passed in 2006 that allowed union officials to count their union service towards a state teachers pension, but only if they had obtained teaching certificates and worked in a classroom before the bill was signed into law.
a. The caps were passed on a bipartisan basis and signed by a Democratic Governor due to concerns that skyrocketing malpractice insurance costs were driving doctors out of Illinois.
a. “The Court said the legislature’s caps violate the separation of powers by infringing on the judiciary.”
b. The ruling represented the Court’s third rejection of malpractice caps and struck down the entirety of the 2005 law.
c. Justices Karmeier and Garman dissented from the opinion, writing that the Supreme Court’s job was to “do justice under the law, not to make the law. Formulating statutory solutions to social problems is the prerogative of the legislature. Whether there is a solution to the health-care crisis is anyone’s guess. I am certain, however, that if such a solution can be found, it will not come from the judicial branch. It is critical, therefore, that the courts not stand as an obstacle to legitimate efforts by the legislature and others to find an answer.”
1. In 2014, LaSalle County Circuit Judge Joseph Hettel Pled Guilty To DUI2
2. In 2009, Peoria County Associate Judge Albert Purham Jr. Pled Guilty To DUI3
3. In 2008, Cook County Judge Sheila McGinnis Was Arrested For DUI4
4. In 2006, Associate Judge Steven Nordquist Pled Guilty To DUI5
5. In 2006, St. Clair Judge Patrick Young Was Charged With DUI6
6. In 1998, LaSalle County Circuit Judge Cynthia Raccuglia Was Arrested For DUI7
7. In 1998, Cook County Associate Judge Edwin Gausselin Was Arrested For DUI8
8. In 1990, Sangamon County Associate Judge George Ray Was Reprimanded – The Lowest Possible Punishment – For DUI9
9. In 1980, Appellate Judge John Karns Jr. Was Arrested For DUI10
10. In 1975, Cook County Associate Judge Robert Sweeney Was Reprimanded – The Lowest Possible Punishment – For DUI11
11. In 1973, Stephenson County Circuit Court Judge Robert Law Was Censured, But Not Removed From Office, For DUI Three Times12