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Kadner: Jim Riley, of Hickory Hills, running for Illinois Supreme Court

Jim Riley candidate for Illinois Supreme Court from Hickory Hills

Jim Riley, candidate for Illinois Supreme Court from Hickory Hills

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Updated: December 1, 2012 6:23AM



Hickory Hills resident James Riley is running an election campaign for an office that doesn’t get much attention: justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court justices, the judges who serve on the state’s highest court are elected by the people.

Unfortunately, the people don’t know much about them and, due to the nature of the office, the candidates aren’t supposed to state their positions on controversial issues.

There are seven justices on the Illinois Supreme Court, three elected from Cook County and four from downstate districts. Each is elected to a 10-year term.

Riley, a Republican, is running against Mary Jane Theis, a Democrat who lives in Chicago.

Theis is a neighbor of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is endorsed by the Chicago Democratic Organization and just happened to vote on a residency challenge when Emanuel ran for mayor.

“She voted to uphold Emanuel’s eligibility to run for mayor and she lives on the same block as him, right across the street, two doors down,” Riley said.

“It was a unanimous vote of the court, but I still believe she should have recused herself.”

Riley, supervising judge of the probate division of the Cook County Circuit Court, contends the independence of the judicial branch of government is essential to Illinois voters “since the governor, the state Senate and the state House are all controlled by the Democratic Party.”

Riley, 58, has lived in Hickory Hills for most of his life and has raised four children there.

“All of them attended Stagg High School,” he boasts. “One went to West Point and is now serving in Afghanistan. Another son attended the U.S. Air Force Academy and is training to be a pilot.”

Riley himself is a member of a family with a long legal history in the suburbs.

“My dad founded the law firm of Riley, Riley and Riley in Hickory Hills,” the judge said.

“The law firm began with just him and my mother as the secretary.

“They had six children, and five of them went to law school, and each of us joined the firm over time.

“They stopped at Riley, Riley and Riley because they felt adding two more Rileys would have been just too redundant.”

The Rileys made history in 1996 when James and his sister Barbara joined brother Daniel as Cook County judges.

“Never before had three siblings been elected as judges in Illinois,” Riley contends.

Daniel and Barbara are now retired.

After graduating from St. Ignatius College Prep and Lewis University, Riley obtained his law degree from John Marshall Law School in 1982.

“I became a working lawyer and handled every kind of case, from adoptions to real estate, criminal and civil, and practiced in courtrooms in Will County, DuPage County and Cook County,” he said.

“I know what it’s like to work for a living, to unlocking a door in the morning to turning off the lights at night.

“My opponent graduated law school and became a public defender. She was appointed to a vacancy on the bench. Then she was appointed to the Illinois Appellate Court. Then she was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

“She has worked her entire life in the public sector.”

On her Illinois Supreme Court biography, Theis states she worked in the Cook County public defender’s office after graduating law school at the University of San Francisco.

She was then appointed an associate judge in Cook County, where she served for five years.

In 1988, Theis was elected judge in Cook County, and she was assigned to the criminal and chancery division until 1993, when she was appointed to the appellate court. She was elected to the appellate court in 1994.

When Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald retired in 2010, the Supreme Court appointed Theis to fill his vacancy on the court.

Voters will determine who fills that vacancy for the next 10 years in this election.

Theis is rated “highly qualified” by the Chicago Bar Association, Illinois Bar Association and Chicago Council of Lawyers.

Riley received “qualified” ratings by the Chicago and Illinois bar groups, but was rated “not qualified” by the Council of Lawyers, which emphasized his narrow judicial experience and lack of published materials in its evaluation.

Riley believes the “not qualified” rating is the result of a statement he made opposing merit selection for judges.

“I believe voters ought to have a say in the judicial process, especially here in Illinois where political powerbrokers play a significant role,” he said.

Riley said that after an initial election, judges could be appointed on merit except in cases in which a Supreme Court commission decided unqualified judges should stand for re-election.

Riley said as a member of the Supreme Court he would have cast a vote against the state redistricting map crafted by Democrats that created gerrymandered legislative districts that he contends are not “compact and contiguous” as required by law.

I believe it is nearly impossible for voters to determine who deserves their support in judicial races due to the lack of information available to them.

Bar association ratings are helpful, but give far too much power, I believe, to the very people who try cases before the courts.

It’s not often a Southland resident runs for the Illinois Supreme Court, and while Theis has been able to raise a substantial campaign warchest, Riley — like many GOP candidates from this area — has had no help from the state Republican Party.

I thought you ought to at least be aware that he’s running for an important elected office.



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