Like many organizations, court systems have deliberate processes for acculturating and training new members — a process sometimes referred to as “socialization.” Forms of court socialization include formal processes like “baby judge” schools to provide training on opinion writing and docket management, as well as informal processes of acclimating new judges to the ins and outs of their jobs.
In Cook County, Illinois, part of the socialization and acclimation process involves assigning new judges to traffic court. But Judge Richard Cooke, a former private practitioner who won an unopposed judicial election last November, rejected his traffic court assignment and apparently never reported for duty. Judge Cooke claims a conflict of interest, alleging that he has financial stake in a car wash that cleans city-owned vehicles. Other are not buying it:
Critics say the tempest is an illustration of all that’s wrong with selecting judges in Cook County — where cash and political connections at times carry more weight than temperament and ability. Daley Center judges say traffic court is the best place for a new judge to learn how to manage a courtroom, master a new area of law and do their job in a setting where the possible damage they can inflict is relatively minimal.
Former top federal prosecutor Carrie Hamilton, who helped prosecute ex-governor Rod Blagojevich, and former Winston & Strawn partner Raymond Mitchell both spent time in traffic court before moving into other assignments.
The court administration initially responded by assigning Judge Cooke only to conduct marriage ceremonies. With the outcry continuing, however, this week the circuit court’s executive committee sent the issue to the state Judicial Inquiry Board. This is the first step in a possible disciplinary action against Judge Cooke. We will follow the story as it develops.