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ELECTIONS 2020 JUDGES (COGHLAN VACANCY) James Derico Jr. on current judgeship, church, LGBTQ history
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Derico Jr.—a member of the LGBTQ community—finds himself in the position of several of his colleagues in which he's a sitting judge running for a vacancy.

His qualifications would impress many, as he has been involved in the legal field ( in one aspect or another ) for more than three decades. In 1992, Derico became the owner and founding partner of Derico & Associates, P.C. In that capacity, Judge represented Fortune 500 companies and private individuals in a wide range of transactional and litigation matters.

Windy City Times: Like some others, such as Levander Smith Jr., you're a judge running for a vacancy.

James Derico Jr.: Yes; my term expires Dec. 7. The difference is I'm in the Coghlan vacancy. All I know is that Judge Matthew Coghlan is the first judge to not be retained in 28 years. [Note: It was reported that Coghlan fell short of the 60 percent of "yes" votes from the public needed to keep his/her/their seat.] My political spin on the situation is that the Illinois Supreme Court knew people were watching who was put in that spot [the bench Derico currently occupies]. I heard that there are about 90,000 attorneys in Cook County—and I was picked.

WCT: Would you say you're in a closely watched race?

JDJ: At this point, not really. There might be some "lakefront liberals" watching, but usually when I mention the Coghlan vacancy, people are like, "Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" They don't have any concept of it. It was closely watched when it happened, but people have moved on. When I first ran, there was the joke that I was the "nobody nobody knew"—it's based on an urban legend.

Also, I am a man of faith, and I believe that if God decides to live for you, nothing else really matters.

WCT: Speaking of faith, you attend Trinity United Church of Christ. How long have you attended?

JDJ: Twenty-one years. You know, they supported abolitionists and paid for the lawyers for the Amistad people; it has a very long history.

WCT: What drew you to that particular church?

JDJ: I grew up in church where we went for 9:30-2 on Sundays, went back at night, go on Tuesday and Friday; when we were teenagers, we stopped going so much. So I thought I had enough church growing up.

But in January 1998, I made a New Year's resolution to go to church. Two of my college friends were members of Trinity, and it was the only church I had really heard of, so I went there. I instantly liked [Rev.] Jeremiah Wright.

WCT: What was your reaction when the controversy surfaced about Jeremiah Wright when [President] Obama ran for office? Did you think it was much ado about nothing?

JDJ: I did. It's interesting you asked that because one of my very good friends from college, who happens to be white, had parents in town—and I was good friends with them. My friend's father asked me about Jeremiah Wright and I said, "Jeremiah Wright was a decorated veteran of the Marines, and who am I—who's never been in the military—to criticize a man who fought for this country?" I heard when he said, "God damn America," and I moved on. He did say [later], "I shouldn't have said that from the pulpit."

The other piece is that I thought "Who in the world can judge a person's whole body of work from a 30-second sound bite?" He took a church that had 80 people and built it to 15,000.

Also, it's hard out there for a brother. It's a system. But the church just became a wonderful place for me. I go to an elementary school near the church, and mentor fourth- and fifth-grade boys. Last year, they asked me to be their commencement speaker. Also, we have partnered with Trinity for a legal clinic where people can get free legal advice; I was co-chair of the committee from 2006 until I went on the bench in 2019. I've received the Chicago Volunteer Legal Services Distinguished Service Award.

WCT: So can a judge ever be an advocate for someone or a cause?

JDJ: No—absolutely not. I can't give legal advice or even opinions on matters that come before me. Someone asked me my thoughts about Mayor Lightfoot's set-asides for LGBTs, and I said, "I can't give my opinion." I haven't ruled on it, but I never know when I might have to decide something related to that.

WCT: What do you think are the biggest issues affecting the LGBTQ community?

JDJ: I think one—like one of the many facing African Americans—is a loss of sense of history. I'm not young, so I don't know how much younger LGBTQ people know of their history. With the Legacy Walk [in Boystown], I didn't know half of the people featured are [LGBTQ]. George Washington Carver—the peanut man? [Laughs] It's a concern to me because those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

So that sense of history is important. All of those people on the Legacy Walk, for example, are good to know. I have a strong feeling that 20 years from now, young gay people won't know about when they couldn't marry.

WCT: What are your biggest advantages and disadvantages in this political race?

JDJ: My biggest advantage—and biggest disadvantage—is that people see my name and don't know I'm Black. I can't tell you how many African American senior citizens who've said to me, "I'm so glad I met you because I wouldn't know what to do with your name."

See .

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