Lake County judge takes lead among Dems to succeed Justice (and former Chicago Bear) Bob Thomas on state Supreme Court. GOP race too close to call

A Lake County judge was leading in the Democratic primary to succeed retiring Justice (and former Chicago Bear) Bob Thomas on the Illinois Supreme Court Tuesday night, in a race that could overturn Democrats’ dominance of the state’s highest court.

With 69% of precincts reporting, Democrat Elizabeth Rochford had 44% of the vote to 30% held by Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering in the newly redrawn 2nd District covering DeKalb, Kendall, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.

The Republican primary race was too close to call. Republican Mark Curran, former Lake County sheriff, held a slim margin over Lake County Judge Daniel Shanes —30.9% to 30.2% — a difference of 521 votes.

Rochford and Shanes have been considered favorites in their primaries. Each of them has more campaign money than their rivals by more than two-to-one.

Rochford spent election night with supporters at a restaurant in Lake Bluff. “We’re feeling really optimistic,” she said in an interview. “We ran exactly the campaign we hoped to run, positive, we had a good message.”

The other Republicans on the ballot are Illinois Appellate Court Judge Susan Hutchinson and Kane County Circuit Court Judge John Noverini, who both had 19.1%. The other Democrat is Kane County Judge René Cruz with 25%.

Democrats will have to win either the 2nd District seat or the 3rd District seat — in DuPage, Will and other southwest counties — to maintain their dominance of the state’s highest court, which currently stands at 4 to 3.

The 3rd District seat — where Democratic Justice Thomas Kilbride lost his bid for retention two years ago — was uncontested in the primary. Republican Michael J. Burke and Democrat Mary K. O’Brien will face off in November.

The newly redrawn 2nd District race has taken on increased meaning as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Rochford has indicated her support for abortion rights, and wrote Monday on her Facebook page that she’s “endorsed by the Illinois leaders who wrote some of the strongest laws in our nation on women’s rights.”

Shanes has not been forthcoming about indicating position on abortion and declined to comment on it during an interview with the Sun-Times. Curran told the Sun-Times he’s “pro-life.”

While Rochford and Shanes are both rated “highly recommended” by the Illinois Bar Association, Curran — who’s never been a judge — was rated “not recommended.”

But Curran has said he makes up for that with experience teaching constitutional law and as a prosecutor.

Curran was initially tossed from the primary ballot earlier this year by the State Board of Elections for not having enough signatures. But a Cook County judge later reinstated Curran, as well as Hutchinson and Rotering.

While Shanes and Rochford have considerable coffers — Rochford with nearly $700,000 cash on hand, and Shanes with near $400,000 — Curran had about $10,000 in campaign cash, according to public finance records.

Shanes has been a Lake County Circuit Court judge for 16 years, serving now as the chief deputy judge. He started as a Lake County assistant state’s attorney in 1995.

Shanes is endorsed by the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police and has said in campaign advertisements that “restoring the rule of law is on the ballot.”

Rochford has been a Lake County judge since 2012 and currently handles guardianship cases in probate court. She started as a Cook County assistant state’s attorney, moved to private practice, then spent 23 years as commissioner of the Illinois Court of Claims and a judge for the past nine.

Rochford is endorsed by major labor organizations, the Teamsters Joint Council 25 and the Illinois AFL-CIO. She’s also endorsed by outgoing Secretary of State Jesse White.

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