Judicial primary elections are some of the most important, but least reported on, elections. Injustice Watch has sought to fill this information gap by providing critical information that’s unavailable anywhere else about candidates running for judge. With the help of paid interns from local colleges, we combed newspaper records, searched property histories, looked up lawsuits, analyzed campaign contributions, and synthesized the recommendations from local bar associations. Our reporting dug up the possibility that several candidates for judge were “sham candidates,” a time-honored (but typically secret) Democratic Party trick for siphoning votes to help the party’s pick. We tracked down a tip that a candidate for Supreme Court had attempted to intervene in a lawsuit involving his nephew. And we reported on several candidates who had been sued, one for alleged misconduct while he was a prosecutor and the other for alleged fraud by her family’s real estate company.
Our 2020 March Primary Election Guide made this information easily accessible to the public in a clean, sleek format. We used easy-to-understand icons to provide top-level information about each judge. And we provided more detailed information on each judge’s biography, notable actions, past controversies, and political endorsements in modal windows (each with its own URL), so it could be shared and easily linked).
Most Cook County news organizations don’t invest the resources necessary to provide voters with comprehensive information about the more than 100 candidates for the bench. Once elected, the more than 400 judges in Cook County make decisions that affect people’s lives, including the ability to take away someone’s freedom, interpret or overturn state laws, and correct or perpetuate injustices. It is very difficult to unseat a sitting judge; it’s only happened once in the last two decades. These are, historically, very low-information races. Our work aims to increase engagement around judicial elections with the hope that it will result in a more just and qualified judiciary.
All finalists for the Gather Award in Engaged Journalism were invited by the award sponsor, the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication’s Agora Journalism Center, to participate in a Lightning Chat where they were given the opportunity to talk more about the impact of their OJA finalist engaged journalism project. Check out this finalists Lightning Chat below.