A couple dozen activists gathered at the Westside Center for Justice Tuesday night to celebrate as a Cook County judge lost a seat for the first time in more than a quarter century.

The judge, Matthew Coghlan, had been targeted for removal by a coalition of activist groups including the Judicial Accountability PAC, Black Lives Matter Chicago, and West Side NAACP, among others. They cited his work as a prosecutor on cases tied to disgraced detective Reynaldo Guevara (for which he is currently being sued by two exonerated men) and his rulings denying a post-conviction hearing to a defendant who says he was tortured by Jon Burge (which were overturned twice by the Illinois Appellate Court).

(For more on Coghlan’s record, read this investigation by Injustice Watch, which found the judge issued harsher sentences to black defendants and lighter sentences to police officers.)

In September, the Cook County Democratic Party, which has traditionally supported the retention of all judges, took the rare step of pulling their endorsement of Coghlan, and late last month County Board President and party boss Toni Preckwinkle released an online video titled “Dump Coghlan,” in which she urged a vote against him for his role in wrongful convictions.

Coghlan needed 60 percent of voters to select “yes” to keep his job; he received just 52.5 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results.

“These judges are instrumental to every element of mass incarceration we face daily, from the surveillance to the brutality, the false confessions, the false convictions, [and] the lack of oversight,” said Maria Hernandez of Black Lives Matter. “So while we fight to change laws, and we fight in our communities to bring healing as well, it’s important to hold people accountable and to take them out of jobs they don’t belong in.”

Coghlan wasn’t the only judge facing criticism from progressives and some legal groups looking to remove judges who they say are too harsh in their sentences or too friendly to prosecutors. The Chicago Tribune joined the Chicago Council of Lawyers in urging a no vote for Judge Maura Slattery Boyle. Boyle handed down the harshest sentences among judges in the Criminal Division and had 35 decisions overturned by the Illinois Appellate court in the past six years, according to an Injustice Watch investigation.  

But Coghlan was the only judge to lose his job Tuesday, the first time that has happened to a sitting Cook County judge since 1990. Boyle was retained with just under 63 percent of the vote.

Other notable races

Kwame Raoul hangs on in race for attorney general

Despite polls showing a tight contest, State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13th) handily defeated Republican lawyer Erika Harold in the race for Illinois attorney general with about 55 percent of the vote.

In televised debates, Raoul and Harold sparred over the veracity of each other’s campaign ads, but showed few substantive differences in the policies they would pursue as attorney general. Both said they would enforce the consent decree over the Chicago Police Department and pursue public corruption cases. They also both promised to increase resources for the Public Access Counselor, which reviews complaints against public agencies for violating the Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act.

One major difference: Raoul said he would join other Democratic attorneys general across the country in filing lawsuits to block Trump administration policies, including the Muslim travel ban and rollbacks of the Affordable Care Act, while Harold said she wouldn’t “politicize” the office in that way.

J.B. Pritzker rides to easy victory in gubernatorial race

To the surprise of no one, billionaire J.B. Pritzker defeated billionaire Bruce Rauner in one of the most expensive statewide races in U.S. history. The candidates spent a combined $229 million of their own money, with Pritzker dropping more than $171 million, according to data collected by ProPublica Illinois. Rauner conceded the race a few minutes before 8pm, less than an hour after the polls had closed.

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[For more on this race, see our columnist Curtis Black’s perspective.]

Pritzker’s resounding win foreshadowed a night in which Democrats won every statewide office, including Comptroller, Secretary of State and Treasurer.

Lauren Underwood becomes first African American to represent Illinois 14th District

Lauren Underwood, a 32-year-old registered nurse and former Obama administration official, became the first African American and first woman to represent Illinois’ 14th Congressional District in a win over incumbent Republican Randy Hultgren.

The tight race in Chicago’s Northwest exurbs had drawn considerable national attention, including campaign stops from both former Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama. President Trump won the majority-white district by 4 percentage points in 2016.

Underwood’s victory was part of an anticipated “blue wave” of young, progressive Democrats that the party hoped would help them take back the U.S. House of Representatives. She centered her campaign around the issue of healthcare and fighting the Trump administration’s efforts to repeal Obamacare.

Jonah Newman

Jonah is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email him at jnewman@chicagoreporter.com and follow him on Twitter @jonahshai.

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