Judge Cecilia Horan is doing what most of us do: try every day to keep her job. Of course, her efforts are much more public.
Horan, an out lesbian, was appointed as a Cook County Circuit Court judge in January 2017. She is presently assigned to the First Municipal Division, where she hears cases involving contract disputes, the rights of landlords and tenants, debtors and creditors and traffic matters. She is running against Keith L. Spence in the Democratic primary.
Windy City Times: Could you explain to our readers why you're running for election and not retention?
Cecilia Horan: Sure. When a judicial seat becomes vacant because of a retirement or any other reason, the [Illinois] Supreme Court appoints someone to fill that seat until the expiration of the prior judge's time. In my case, the expriation is December 2018. Unless I win my election, I wouldn't have my seat after that expiration. That's consistent with the fact that all judges need to be elected in Illinois.
WCT: You're president of LAGBAC [the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago]. Could you talk about what the organization has done since you've become president?
CH: Well, let me tell you a little bit about LAGBAC. It's one of the oldest and largest LGBTQ bar organizations in the country. Our members include lawyers, judges, other elected officials, law students and legal professionals. We've been around for 30 years. What we do is provide social and professional networking for our members, providing CLE ( continuing legal education ), give scholarships and internships to law students, work with organizations like Lambda Legal and mentor students.
Since I've taken overand my tenure began in the beginning of 2017, and I'm still the presidentone of the exciting things we've done recently is that we were invited to join as amicus on a brief opposing Donald Trump's anti-Muslim travel ban. We agreed to do that, and the briefs were filed in the 4th and 9th circuits. The 9th Circuit just issued its opinion, and it cited our brief, which was exciting for us. The focus of the entire ban isn't on LGBT folks, but the court did take LGBTQ orientation when coming to its decision, which was pretty exciting to think our organization could help other LGBT groups around the world.
WCT: Since this is your first time running, what have you discovered about the electoral process that's surprised you?
CH: [Laughs] I don't know if you can ever be ready.
You need stamina; it's a marathon. The process involves obtaining political supportthere are 80 committeemen around the county, there are 50 wards in Chicago and there are 30 townships, and there are other elected officials whose support is important to get because they have connections with constitutents in their smaller communities. The process of running for an electiondespite how it might look from the outsidereally started about a year ago in trying to get that support as well as from the Democratic Party and neighborhood organizations.
The time and intensity and energy it takes to be a candidate is surprisingalthough maybe it shouldn't be. And you have to do this outside of work.
WCT: Although it'd be nice if you could do that: "I'm taking electoral leave."
CH: [Laughs] Right. I guess if you're in private practice, you can kind of do that, depending on your position.
WCT: And speaking of private practice, you were at Hinshaw & Culbertson for 20 yearsand you did personal-injury defense, correct?
CH: Yes. I represented companies, corporations and organizations who were being sued for personal injury or property damage. I did some insurance coverage as well.
WCT: In our questionnaire, you said that you believe in the restorative justice model. I was wondering if you could talk about that a little more about that.
CH: Let me preface my response by saying I don't have a criminal-law background, and I really don't have any criminal matters come before me besides traffic court. My background is mainly civil.
That being said, I'm familiar with judges who work with the restorative justice model we have in Cook County. In July 2017, there was a new program implemented, and I think it's pretty unique. What it doesand it's only in North Lawndale presentlyis that it puts the offender and victim in the same room, with the judge down at the same level. ( Also, I believe it's if the offender hasn't been accused of a violent crime. ) It re-integrates the offender into the community and holds him accountable for his actions; he works out an agreement with the victim that focuses on restitution and a possible letter of apology. I think it's a way to keep people out of jail, to get them back into society, and to improve everyone's quality of life.
I think it's a good thing, and I hope it's successful so we can keep young men out of jail.
WCT: That being said, do you think a judge can be an activist while on the bench?
CH: I don't think a judge could or should be an activist. In fact, there's the Code of Judicial Conduct, which precludes activism. As a litigant, you want to make sure your judge is going to give you a fair hearing. We all have opinions as human beings; when you're a judge, though, you need to leave your opinions at the door.
WCT: Is there a gray area where activism is concerned? It doesn't have to involve picketing, let's say; for example, it could take the form of financial donations.
CH: Regarding financial donations, I'd have to look to see what the rules say on that, so I don't want to comment on that. When I have a question, I look at what the rules say; then I have a colleague who's on the board of judicial ethics.
WCT: Why do you believe that we need to have more LGBT judges?
CH: I think the judiciary should reflect the community that it serves. I didn't expect this, but it's true: I see a lot of LGBT folks come through my communityand to the extent that anyone can feel comfortable in traffic court, I want each person to feel comfortable and feel like they're getting a fair shake from me.
WCT: Out of curiosity, what decision do you wish you had been a part of when it was decided?
CH: Oh, my gosh. I'll say Bowers v. Hardwick [a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, overturned in 2003, that upheld the constitutionality of a Georgia sodomy law criminalizing oral and anal sex in private between consenting adults]. I think the comtemptuous they used to describe gay people was soul-crushing for some people. If there was anything I could've done to point that decision in a different direction, I would've done it.
See voteforjudgehoran.com/ .