COOK COUNTY, Ill. (WLS) -- Illinois' primary election is still two months away, but it seems there are already seven winners to announce.
Seven people running for judge in Cook County have been appointed to the bench, in part because they were unopposed on the ballot.
The shortcut to the bench is being made possible by the Illinois Supreme Court. It will install seven new judges in Cook County early next month to fill open positions.
There is quite a judge shortage in Cook County, and appointing judge candidates who are running unopposed is aimed at speeding things up in the courts.
There are currently 43 vacancies across the Circuit Court of Cook County. While 379 judges are on the bench, the vacancies have a trickle-down effect for anybody who wants to contest a traffic ticket or see their civil lawsuits move forward.
The November election, fed by Illinois' March primary, would usually result in new judges filling the open spots. But the Illinois Supreme Court has sped up the clock by tapping seven candidates for judge, all of whom are running unopposed, and installing them even before the voters go to the polls. The group of seven is being appointed and will be on the bench beginning February 2. Even though they will already be judges, they will all still be on the ballot in the primary and general election.
"Very few people are running for judge, comparatively speaking, this election cycle. And that has to do with a lot of different factors, including how much it costs to run these days. Elections are more expensive than ever," Maya Dukmasova told the I-Team. She is a courts and election reporter for the non-partisan, not-for-profit, Injustice Watch in Chicago. The organization is currently preparing Cook County's judicial election guide.
The seven candidates-turned-judges are all highly experienced, and according to the Supreme Court, all received positive ratings from judicial screening groups including the Chicago Bar Association.
Dukmasova says that appointing judges who are candidates without opposition can help cut the backlog of casework. "On the bright side for the people of Cook County, vacant judges positions being occupied means cases are going to get processed. So, especially if you have a traffic matter that's pending in Cook County Court, hopefully this means that it'll be handled more expeditiously."
Illinois Supreme Court officials say the seven new judges are among a total of 18 who have been appointed in the past year or so to fill vacancies on the Cook County bench. All of them are technically temporary appointments, and their names will still be on election ballots. The annual salary for county judges here starts at $212-thousand.