Ald. Jason Ervin and West Side pastors tell Justice Anne Burke they want diversity — not another white judge — on the bench

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Faith leaders and community activists look on as Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) calls for Supreme Court Justice Ann Burke to rescind her judicial appointment of Cara Smith to the 7th Sub-Circuit during a press conference in the lobby of the Bilandic Building, Friday morning, June 14, 2019.

The 28th Ward alderman and church leaders are crying foul after Burke recommended Cara Smith, the chief policy advisor to the Cook County sheriff, to fill a vacancy left by a retiring African American judge.

Ald. Jason Ervin, pastors and lawyers from the West Side on Friday demanded Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke not appoint to the bench a top aide to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, saying the matter is about diversity not politics.

Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of the Austin-based St. John Bible Church, said Burke still had time to “do the right thing” for the seventh subcircuit, which spans much of the city’s West Side, including Austin, and some western suburban areas such as River Forest and Proviso Township.

At a news conference Friday at the state supreme court offices in Chicago, the clergyman pleaded with Burke not to swear in Cara Smith, who is Dart’s policy chief, on Monday. Acree later tried to deliver a letter to Burke, but security turned him away. Smith, who is white, would replace a retiring judge, Marianne Jackson, who is black.

“We do not want an illegitimate justice representing our community,” Acree said. “To [swear Smith in] would be a gross injustice to our community. Everybody knows this judicial position was created by Illinois legislature to give us assurance that the judicial system would have some diversity — we want diversity on our bench.”

“We will not sit idly by and allow the Burkes to once again disrespect our community,” Acree said, in an apparent reference to the judge and her husband, embattled Ald. Edward M. Burke, who faces criminal charges in a political corruption case.

Word of Anne Burke’s pick went out last Friday and was quickly mired in controversy.

Ervin, who represents the 28th Ward on the West Side, expressed disappointment in the pick due to the loss of diversity. He wanted to know who applied for the position.

“To me it looks like they were looking not to appoint someone of color to this position,” Ervin, the newly minted chair of the City Council’s Black Caucus, said. “There were several to my knowledge who had applied for this and to say that there were no qualified individuals on the West Side of Chicago to take this seat . . . is a false narrative and I totally disagree with that . . . What is the record of Cara Smith? What has she been doing for the last 20 years other than being someone who worked with Sheriff Tom Dart and someone that worked with Attorney General Lisa Madigan . . . so where is her court experience?”

Smith declined to respond to Ervin’s comments.

A statement released by Justice Burke this week raised questions about whether Ervin’s concerns were solely about diversity.

According to the statement, after the vacancy in the subcircuit was announced, Ervin came to Burke in October and asked her to appoint Pamela Reaves-Harris to the post. Reaves-Harris is the former state representative for the 10th District, a post that Ervin’s wife filled when the Reaves-Harris decided not to seek reelection.

Burke said Reaves-Harris could apply like everyone else, and she would be reviewed by the selection committee.

An evaluation by The Chicago Bar Association Judicial Evaluation Committee found Reaves-Harris was “not recommended” for the post and went on to say “while Ms. Harris was ‘a dedicated, busy and hardworking public servant,’ her ‘limited practice and court experience would make it difficult for her to effectively serve as a Circuit Court judge,’” according to Burke’s statement.

“My Judicial Selection Committee similarly concluded that Ms. Reaves-Harris was not a qualified candidate,” Burke’s statement read. “Having qualified judges is in the best interests of public safety and promotes confidence in the justice system.”

Ervin said it’s his job as chairman of the subcircuit committee of the Cook County Democratic Party to recommend people for judicial posts, so the conversation wasn’t unusual.


Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Faith leaders, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and community activists look on Friday as attorney Patrick Dankwa John calls for Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke to rescind her judicial appointment of Cara Smith to the seventh subcircuit during a press conference in the lobby of the Bilandic Building. John said he is qualified and applied for the job.

Even though Reaves-Harris was determined to be not qualified, there were other black candidates, like Patrick Dankwa John, who were, Ervin said.

And John said at the news conference that he didn’t even get an interview — he found out he wasn’t chosen for the position when he saw the news of Smith’s appointment.

“I was found qualified by the Chicago Bar Association and, like most of the other folks, I did not get a call, I did not get an interview, I don’t know who else may have gotten a call or an interview but I know I did not and I’ve been practicing law for 21 years,” John said. “How much more qualified do we have to be? There’s always a plus one with us.”

Smith was found “highly qualified,” according Burke’s statement. Acree said that, should Smith take the oath Monday, he and others will make sure that everyone in the community knows Smith is an “illegitimate” justice.

Rev. Ira Acree (center), of Greater St. John Bible Church, was among a group of faith leaders, community activists and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who were denied entry Friday by security while trying to deliver a letter to Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke a
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
Rev. Ira Acree (center), of Greater St. John Bible Church, was among a group of faith leaders, community activists and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who were denied entry Friday by security while trying to deliver a letter to Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke at the Bilandic Building. The letter calls on her to rescind her judicial appointment of Cara Smith to the seventh subcircuit.

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June 14, 2019 at 02:06PM

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