Two area residents who are veteran public defenders are running for judge in county-wide races in the March 20 Democratic primary. In Cook County Circuit Court judges are elected both county-wide and from 15 different subcircuits. Jerry Barrido of Brookfield and Kathryn Maloney Vahey of Riverside have teamed up with a veteran state’s attorney from Lemont, Kathaleen Lanahan, to help each other as they run for three different county-wide vacancies.

“The three of us had known each other and worked together for years,” Vahey said. 

They helped each other gather the signatures necessary to get on the ballot and have some joint campaign literature. None of them have been endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party and they did not even seek the party’s endorsement which is made by the ward and township committeeman of the Cook County Democratic Party.

“I did not seek slating,” Barrido said. “I don’t fancy myself as a politician. I fancy myself as someone who works hard in the courtroom for the marginalized members of our community, our most vulnerable.”

Both Barrido and Vahey are in three-person races and both face a sitting judge who was recently appointed to the bench. Barrido is facing Judge Clare Joyce Quish, the candidate endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party, and Patrick Dankwa John, an African-American lawyer in private practice who lives in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. Quish was appointed to the bench in 2016.

The party backed candidate in Vahey’s race is Judge Oran F. Whiting, an African-American who was appointed to the bench last July. Vahey’s other opponent is John Maher, the Deputy Supervisor of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Gang Crimes and Complex Litigation unit.

One reason that Barrido and Vahey did not seek the party’s endorsement is that endorsed candidates running for county-wide judicial vacancies are expected to contribute about $40,000 to the party to pay for part of the cost of the county-wide mailings by the party before the election. These mailings include the names of all endorsed candidates.

All party endorsed candidates, whether for judge or other county-wide office, are expected to contribute to the cost of the mailings said Don Harmon, the Oak Park Township Democratic Committeeman and a member of the party’s judicial slate making committee.

“All of the candidates slated by the party, from the county board president down to the last judge on the ballot, we ask them to contribute to a common campaign fund to ask them to pay for county-wide mailings and other campaign related expenses,” Harmon said. “It’s the same amount that Toni Preckwinkle contributes.”

Despite Vahey not being the party’s endorsed candidate State Rep. Mike Zalewski, who is the Riverside Township Democratic Committeeman, is supporting her. Last year Zalewski’s campaign fund contributed $500 to Vahey’s campaign.

“We need variety on the bench, we need strong women on the bench and I think she’s got the litigation experience to be a really good member of the judiciary,” Zalewski said.

Vahey said that one reason that she didn’t appear before the slate makers was because at the time she was considering running in the 4th Judicial Subcircuit. 

“I didn’t appear before the slate makers,” Vahey said. “At that point I was thinking about running in the subcircuit. That was my focus. I hadn’t thought about that. Running for office for the first time has been a whirlwind of a year. I didn’t think that I had a real legitimate chance at slating because I wasn’t politically active. That may have been a correct assumption, I don’t know, but I didn’t appear before that slating group.”

Vahey actually filed nominating petitions to run both county-wide and in the 4th subcircuit before deciding to pull out of the subcircuit race to run county-wide.

She felt that running county-wide offered her the best chance to win, especially because she managed to knock off the ballot the only other woman who filed to run for the vacancy that she is running for. Vahey wanted to be the only woman in her race and that would not have been the case in the sub circuit race.

“That’s a lot of what I was hoping for this year,” Vahey said.

It is generally believed that being a woman is an advantage in Cook County judicial races as is having an Irish name.

Vahey’s husband Michael objected to the nominating petitions of Lisa Copland, an African-American divorce lawyer who filed to run for the same vacancy that Vahey is running to fill. The Electoral Board determined that Copland did not submit enough valid signatures and she was removed from the ballot leaving Vahey to face off against two men.

Barrido, 45, who came to the United States from the Philippines when he was six years old, said that he decided to run countywide because he is counting on support from the Asian-American community which is widely distributed throughout the county.

“When people of different races and genders are judged by the same homogenous group of a certain race and certain gender they lose faith in the judicial system,” Barrido said.

Vahey, 47, has been a public defender for 19 years and like Lanahan, is currently assigned to the Bridgeview courthouse. Vahey, a native of Brooklyn, decided while she was a student at Loyola Law School that she wanted to be a public defender. It was the only job that she applied for coming out of law school. 

She said that she has practiced before many excellent judges and some who were not so good.

“Having spent 19 years in courtrooms I’ve watched really good judges treat people well, handle cases well, and kind of calmly work through caseloads and dispose of cases fairly and there have been times when I’ve been in courtrooms where I’ve been frustrated and didn’t feel court calls were handled in that manner,” Vahey said. “As a judge you’re afforded an opportunity to have a real impact on a great number of people’s lives. And I’d like the opportunity to do that in the way I’ve seen all the great judges that I’ve been before do that.”