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Robert Harris

Democratic candidate for Cook County Circuit (5th Subcircuit (Washington Vacancy district)

Robert Harris

Robert Harris

Democratic candidate for Cook County Circuit (5th Subcircuit (Washington Vacancy district)

DePaul University College of Law, JD University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, BS Industrial Engineering
Circuit Court Judge, State of Illinois
Past Political/Civic Experience
Cook County Public Guardian (non-political) Chairperson of the Illinois Supreme Court College on Guardian ad litem Education (non-political)

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.

After being screened by the Chicago Bar Association (found Highly Qualified for a Circuit Court Judge and Qualified for an Associate Judge positions), the Alliance of Bar Associations (I was found Qualified or Recommended for an Associate Judge position by 10 of the 11 bar associations, LABAC did not rate me through no fault of mine), and Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis' screening committee, I was appointed on September 21, 2017 in the same Cook County Circuit Court Judge's position I am running for.

For the past approximately 3 1/2 months I have presided over traffic court cases (DUIs, speeding tickets, and other traffic compliance infraction cases) and eviction cases in the First Municipal Division. Prior to my appointment as a judge, I was appointed as the Cook County Public Guardian by Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans.

For over 26 years I legally advocated for some of society's most vulnerable individuals: children, the elderly, and adults with disabilities. As such, I had the opportunity to advocate for my clients in the Illinois trial courts, Illinois Appellate Courts, Illinois Supreme Court, and even in the United States Supreme Court. Furthermore, I advocated for my clients and wards directly in the trenches for their critical day to day needs in forums such as administrative hearings, educational hearings, and even legislative forums.

I was able to work on unique issues such as whether the historic preservation value of a Frank Lloyd Wright house's expensive tile roof trumped the affordable cost of a plain shingle roof that the elderly resident could afford and allow her to remain in her long time home; the legal rights of a 10 year old girl impregnated by her older cousin; and whether the State of Illinois should take a mentally ill woman's home for a few hundred dollars in delinquent property taxes while she was psychiatrically hospitalized without proper notice when the state knew or should have known she was in the hospital.

In addition to appearing and arguing cases in court, as Cook County Public Guardian I made high level decisions on the legal strategies to resolve the problems confronting thousands of clients and wards represented by my then office. As such, many of my days were predominated with meeting with attorneys to strategize our legal approach including selecting expert witnesses and the best legal arguments for an individual case. On any given day it was common for me to mentally switch between at least 3 areas of the law in order to make a decision or give direction to the attorneys and others in my office.

I made the final decision regarding financial settlements in Illinois Probate Act Citation actions to recover assets stolen from my wards prior to my office's involvement, whether to file amicus curiae briefs in the Illinois Supreme and United States Supreme Courts, and whether to support, oppose, or craft proposed laws that affected my clients and wards.

My experiences as Public Guardian required me to constantly weigh the laws and facts of a case, much in the way (albeit differently) I must weigh the law and facts of cases that I preside over as a judge now. Additionally, as Public Guardian I served people from many different walks of life. While most of my clients and wards came from impoverished communities of color in Chicago, others came from affluent backgrounds in Chicago and the suburbs.

I also believe that it was important for me to be active with many legal, civic, public service, and social organizations in order to be aware of the concerns of people in the community. Therefore, I was active in groups such as the Chicago Bar Association, Aids Legal Council of Chicago, Leadership Greater Chicago, and LINK Unlimited (a program where I mentored and paid the tuition for an African American student at a Chicago land area Catholic high school), to name a few.

Finally, I applied to become a judge because of what I perceived to be a need to promote diversity in the judicial. Not just because of my race or any other tangible thing about me (although racial, gender, sexual orientation, and even religious diversity in judges is important), but because I believe that the judges who preside over cases should also have different life and legal experiences. Most of the judges I have known came from a criminal backgrounds (former Assistant State's Attorneys or Public Defender/defense attorneys).

I saw the need to have judges with my background that represented children, youth, the elderly, and people with disabilities who appear as litigants, defendants, and/or victims in every courtroom whether criminal or civil throughout Cook County. And while as a judge your decisions are based upon the law and facts of any particular case, having an understanding of the backgrounds of the individuals who appear before you can only enhance your decision making.

Tell us something we would be surprised to learn about you.

I was in a music video in the late 1980's that played on MTV and I think BET.

Candidates for Cook County Circuit (5th Subcircuit (Washington Vacancy district)