Peter Michael Gonzalez
Democratic candidate for Cook County Circuit (McGinnis 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.
The resume highlights of my professional career are as follows: I started my career in 1994 as a Cook County Public Defender working in that office for almost nine years. I worked in a variety of courtroom assignments including: juvenile (delinquency and abuse & neglect); felony preliminary hearings; night narcotics; and a felony trial room. I left the Public Defender's office in 2003 to open my own private practice.
My practice focused mainly on criminal defense, but I also helped clients with other issues, such as immigration hearings, administrative hearings, Individual Education Plans, liquor licenses, and zoning applications/appeals.
In late 2003, I started to work intermittently as an Administrative Law Judge for the Illinois Department of Illinois Security doing benefit appeal hearings. In 2013, I was placed on a "non-scheduled" status in that position due to the government sequester and lack of funding. I continued my criminal defense private practice through out this time period with several jury trials and my share of high profile felony cases.
My professional resume was recently capped off with an appointment on November 27, 2017 to fill a vacancy on the bench. I am now five weeks into my new position, learning and enjoying the position immensely. In total, I have practiced law for twenty-three years with a variety of substantial experience in several subjects and fields. With these resume highlights, believe I have all of the fundamental qualifications to be a good Circuit Court Judge.
I have extensive trial experience and have spent several years of my practice in a variety of Courtrooms. I have a wide, effective knowledge of the law in all aspects of criminal defense, as well as several civil practice areas. I believe that I have the patience, understanding and empathy to relate to the parties, the attorneys, and the various support personnel involved in courtroom procedures. I know that I have the desire and dedication to hold this position with the honor it deserves.
Combined with these objective qualifications, I believe that I have additional subjective qualifications that make me uniquely qualified to be a good Circuit Court Judge. First, the decision making experience I gained while serving as an Administrative Law Judge at the IL Department of Employment Security (2003-2013) has already helped ease my transition on the bench. Admittedly, this ALJ position is not exactly equivalent to being an Circuit Court Judge, but I learned many valuable lessons that are transferable.
The IDES hearings that I conducted were governed by the Federal Rules of Evidence and I made evidentiary rulings. I learned how to maintain decorum during the hearings, while insuring due process, an understandable and coherent record, and respect to the parties. In these hearings, lay people, payroll representatives and attorneys all appeared in front of me. This presented an interesting variety of hearings and a variety of approaches was required to effectively move along my docket at IDES depending on the parties.
These lessons, and my continuing desire to improve, will allow me to quickly transition and adapt to the variety of assignments that can be presented to a Circuit Court Judge. I have only been a Judge for about five weeks, but I feel that I have quickly adapted to my first assignment in Traffic Court due to my prior practice in that area. I effectively run the court call, often finishing early and gladly accepting other court call assignments to help out.
So far, the transition has been as seamless as I had hoped. I'm sure that I will encounter challenges as my judicial career progresses, but I have confidence that when I meet those challenges I will be well prepared and patient. Additionally, in the last nine years since I started considering seeking a judicial position, I have closely observed many of the judges that have come to the bench. Many of them were colleagues and friends, and I worked on many of their judicial campaigns. I have watched as my friends and colleagues transition to the bench. Some transitioned seamlessly, while others struggled. I often asked them directly what they thought they did right and wrong. I tried to place myself in their situation and think how I might react.
I also have had the opportunity to ask new judges why they handled an issue in the manner in which they did. I have taken advantage of my relationships with some of the judges to learn about the challenges of transitioning to this unique position. I have truly evolved through this process. Giving such previous extensive thought to how I would act as Judge before I got to the bench has made me better at this job. I feel that I have had a good start at this job, but I also feel that I have a ways to go to truly earn the respect the robe is afforded.
My mentor told me it was several years until she felt fully comfortable on the bench to take on any case situation. I believe that I am well on my way to getting to that point, but more importantly I realize that I can take my time with decisions when necessary and seek the council of my fellow judges to help me make the right decision. The third subjective qualification that I bring to the bench is my family background.
I am a child of a Cuban immigrant and working class parents. They worked hard for me to have several opportunities, including a full ride scholarship to the University of Michigan. I see my parents' experience in many of my former clients, and I am sure I will see it in many of the parties that will come before me as a Judge. It is important for citizens to see their community reflected on a diverse judicial bench. I hope to reflect my Hispanic community well. I certainly plan to make every effort to be a good mentor to other young attorneys and help the legal community in general.
Tell us something we would be surprised to learn about you.
I have been an actor at periodic times in my life. As I high school kid, I won a thespian award in the Miami, FL area and performed the role of Danny Zuko in "Grease". In 1999, I performed the role of Lord Montague in a production of "Romeo & Juliette" at the Griffin Theater in Andersonville. And in 2011, I was cast with my (then) 10-year-old son in a production of "Animal Farm" at the Madison Street Theater in Oak Park. (http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/8-9-2011/All-is-Orwellian-that-ends-well/). My ability to project my voice "to the back of the room" can come in handy on the bench.