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ELECTIONS COOK COUNTY JUDGE Stephanie Miller on background, being an out candidate
by Matt Simonette

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Openly lesbian Cook County Judge Stephanie Miller was appointed to her current post on the 6th Judicial Subcircuit in January 2017, replacing Judge Robert Lopez Cepero, who had retired.

A former prosecutor and public guardian, Miller is running in the 2018 election to keep her post. She recently spoke with Windy City Times about her professional experience, judicial philiosophies and involvement with the LGBT community.

Windy City Times: What prompted you to accept the post, and run now to keep it in the 2018 election?

Stephanie Miller: I have spent my entire legal career in public service. I started as an assistant public guardian, representing kids who are abused or neglected, and adults in probate division and then went to the state's attorney's office, where I specialized in sex crimes cases with juvenile and adolescent victims.

I've done public service my whole career. When I had the incredible opportunity to be appointed to the bench, it furthered my commitment to that work. I'm currently part of the pre-trial service division, which is the new bond court reform program.

WCT: How do you think your background as a prosecutor and guardian has benefited you in the judicial post?

SM: As I said, I've always worked in public service, and I have always, from day one as an attorney, and even when I was a law clerk, been appearing in court. So I'm comfortable with how a courtroom runs and how a courtroom is to be managed, and the appropriate demeanor to be given in front of judges who are maybe a little cranky and hot-headed, and how that affects the attorneys and the litigants who appear in front of them.

I've taken all of that to heart, and I've been in front of some truly wonderful judges that I've learned immense amounts from. I try to model myself taking a little bit from each of them to do the best job I can.

WCT: What has been your biggest challenge in campaigning so far?

SM: Certainly, as a sitting judge, it's an entirely different issue about campaigning, because I'm bound by the judicial cannon of ethics. Whereas candidates for alderman or state rep can ask for money or assistance, as a sitting judge I cannot do any of that. Though I'm certainly out every night knocking on doors and going to events, I have to rely on a phenomenal group of volunteers and some staff to help out with the things that ethically I am not allowed to do—that's the difficult part. I like to certainly hit the ground running and do it all myself, but I'm restricted in what I'm allowed to do.

WCT: Last spring, hadn't you mentioned some problems with folks in your neighborhood having problems with your being openly gay?

SM: My neighborhood has not been a problem, but my subcircuit encompasses parts of 13 different aldermanic wards and there definitely has been some resistance to me being an open and out LGBT judge and candidate—some subtle, some not so subtle. I understand that comes with the territory and you're a candidate and the public elects you. But it's 2018, and I really thought we're past a lot of that, at least in Chicago and our "blue" area.

WCT: In that same respect, what's the importance of having openly LGBT individuals on the bench?

SM: I firmly believe that, when I put the robe on and I sit on the bench, I not only bring my knowledge the law and experience as an attorney, but I don't check my life experiences at the door when I walk into the courtroom. I'm an out lesbian, I'm a Puerto Rican, I'm a wife, I'm a mother of 12-year-old twins—all of that makes me who I am and gives life experiences that [help] when people appear in front of me in court. They may or may not know my background at all, which is fine. But I [bring] that diversity that I think is crucial for people to be able to relate to and see that it's "someone like me" or "somebody who can empathize with my position." I may not rule in their favor, but at least it brings a level of fairness and unbiasedness when you have diversity on the bench—not just LGBTQ or ethnic diversity, but gender diversity as well.

WCT: Have your judicial colleagues supportive of your being out?

SM: Yes, definitely. I'm also part of an organization called Alliance for Illinois Judges. It's the first, potentially the only, LGBTQ judge's association in the country, started before I had the bench but it was something I was a part of even when I was a lawyer ahead of time.

WCT: What are the most important issues for the LGBT community that a judge has an impact on?

SM: Part of of my objective, certainly as a judge but throughout my entire career, is my role of the bench can help others come up along the way. I was lucky enough to be mentored by other LGBTQ judges and attorneys, so I certainly trying to give back also. I'm on the board of LAGBAC [Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago]; I'm on the membership committee there. So we're trying to get LGBTQ law students and young lawyers more involved.

If there is some desire on their part to be a judge, I can help with that. I think it's so crucial for everybody to have a mentorship relationship. Whether we like it or not, we're still going to run into hurdles regarding sexual orientation, and if there's somebody to go to bounce ideas off of, that can only help within the community.

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