Kevin Patrick Cunningham
Democratic candidate for Cook County Circuit (3rd Subcircuit (Delehanty Vacancy district)
Responses to our questions
Please submit an essay that explains your legal background, why you are qualified for this position and why you seek this position.
My legal background has brought me into a courtroom almost every day for the last 25 years.
I began my legal career in 1992 in the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. As an Assistant State's Attorney, I handled a variety of criminal matters, including traffic court, misdemeanors, preliminary hearings and felonies.
After six years I left the State's Attorney's Office and went into private practice. This was a difficult decision for my wife and me, seeing as we had two small children at the time, but it is a decision I have never regretted. As a solo practitioner I continued to be involved in criminal work but also expanded my practice to include civil matters.
In the civil arena I have practiced in the areas of personal injury, wrongful death, domestic relations and probate. In the course of my career I have handled hundreds of bench trials and over 30 jury trials. My wide-range of experience in both the public and the private sector, handling criminal and civil matters, makes me particularly qualified to be a judge. Notably, I have practiced law in almost every division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, including the Criminal, Juvenile, Municipal, Law, Domestic Relations, Chancery, and Probate Divisions.
I am well-versed in the rules of evidence as well as civil and criminal procedure. I have worked as a prosecutor and as a defense attorney. I understand the pain of a victim's family and have witnessed the anxiety of the family of an accused. In sum, my experiences have made me a tremendously versatile candidate for judge. I am confident that I could be assigned to any division in the circuit court and make an immediate and positive impact on the Circuit Court of Cook County.
Regarding my qualifications, I am qualified to be a judge because I have diverse experience, I am comfortable making weighty decisions, and I have the temperament that is critical to maintain leadership in the courtroom. Moreover, I am seeking a judgeship in the Democratic Primary because I have worked hard to obtain the well-rounded experience that will make me a versatile jurist. I have been a solo practitioner for most of my career, and have maintained my office in the 3rd Subcircuit for the last 11 years.
During that time I have represented working men and women, and sometimes their children. I am accustomed to making every decision that affects my law practice, from billing and scheduling to planning defense strategies and preparing witnesses for trial. Indeed, I make decisions every day that have long-lasting implications for my clients, and I do so in a careful and measured manner. I am therefore comfortable in the role of decision-maker, which is a vital skill for a judge.
One of the most important elements the judge brings to the court is temperament, and I believe that my temperament is one of my strongest assets. By nature, I am a calm person who does not overreact in tense situations. I have witnessed judges all too often lose their temper in the courtroom, and all it does is make things worse for everyone, most especially the litigants.
It is very unsettling when a judge spends his or her time on the bench yelling at litigants and intimidating them. I am confident that as a judge I would never engage in behavior that would degrade the system or make the court personnel dread going to work. I believe that my demeanor makes me particularly qualified to be a judge. Independent bodies also believe I am qualified to be a judge. The Chicago Bar Association has found me "Qualified". I have been rated "Qualified" or "Recommended" by all the members within the Alliance of Bar Associations.
I have the political support of Chicago's 13th Ward Democratic Organization, Chicago's 14th Ward Democratic Organization Chicago's 18th Ward Democratic Organization, Chicago's 19th Ward Democratic Organization, Chicago's 23rd Ward Democratic Organization as well as the Democratic Organizations of Worth and Stickney Townships. Finally, I aspire to be a judge because, having practiced law for over 25 years, I am ready to apply my experiences to the judiciary and dispense justice in a fair, knowledgeable and even-handed manner to the people of Cook County.
I also have the leadership skills that are necessary to be an effective leader in the courtroom. As a judge I will be committed to start the work day promptly and ready to work. The lawyers who appear before me will know that I am prepared and ready to work with them in order to reach a fair and timely resolution to their cases. Moreover, I will treat all litigants with dignity and respect. Many people who come to court are scared and nervous; almost no litigant is at the courthouse by choice. And there is no reason for the judge to compound their anxieties.
People should leave the courthouse knowing that their concerns were heard by a fair and rational decision-maker, even if the case did not result in their favor. I believe the best judges are patient and courteous to everyone who comes before them, including the court staff. My courtroom will be a place where the staff is happy to go to work and the litigants feel they were able to express their concerns.
On a personal note, I am humbled by the fact that last fall over 100 committed friends, family and volunteers helped me gather 4,600 signatures for my nominating petition. These volunteers are ready to help me spread my campaign message throughout the Subcircuit. I am encouraged daily by my friends, family, neighbors and the legal community.
I spend most evenings knocking on doors throughout my community, introducing myself and asking people for their vote. My campaign has held three fundraisers and more are scheduled. To gain the Tribune's endorsement would be vital to the continued success and enthusiasm that my campaign has experienced thus far. Thank you.
Tell us something we would be surprised to learn about you.
My surprise is that I was supposed to be a Chicago fireman.
Recently I stood in my parents' kitchen and watched as my father, now 87 years old, entertained his grandchildren with harrowing stories about when he was a young fireman. And I was reminded of just how close I came to being a fireman, too.
Like so many of his generation, my dad had a strong work ethic. When he wasn't at work, he cleaned church basements to supplement our income. He often took me with him and made me help sweep and put away chairs. Being the oldest of seven, I relished that precious time alone with him. Busy at his work, he would tell me stories about everything from surviving Scarlet Fever to serving in the Korean War. But his stories of being a fireman were the best, and I knew from a young age that I wanted to be one, too.
I took the Chicago firemen's exam as a college freshman. The test took years to process, and I still had not heard from the fire department as I was preparing to graduate. In the meantime, several of my friends were taking the Law School Entrance Exam.
I have always had a competitive streak for standardized tests, so I took the test with them. I scored very well and decided to attend law school while I waited for my letter of acceptance from the fire department. As luck would have it, I received that letter within a few weeks of my first semester at John Marshall. Back then, you could defer your start date twice. So I deferred, rationalizing that I should try law school a little longer than a few weeks.
A few months passed and I discovered that I really enjoyed law school. Then I received another letter. And again I deferred my start date. However, by the beginning of my second year the third letter arrived; the final one. If I didn't take the job, the fire department would take me off the list.
I had to choose between the career that my dad was so passionate about, or the one that I had just discovered and had me so curious to learn more. My dad sensed my angst. He told me that it gave him great joy and satisfaction to do his job and do it well. Most importantly, he assured me that his biggest wish in life was for me to find a job that would make me feel the same way. Of course, I finished law school, with the added bonus of finding my wife.
I have had a very fulfilling career as an attorney; a career path I have never regretted. While I did not follow in my father's steps in terms of my career, it is my humble belief that I share the same passion for my job that he did, and that I am driven by the same work ethic and desire to do my job well.