Updated: March 7, 2013 6:44AM
Testimony on Monday during the trial of a Cook County Circuit Court judge charged with misdemeanor battery was both stunning and an indictment of the county’s flawed system for selecting judges.
Judge Cynthia Brim was acquitted on grounds of insanity. A forensic psychiatrist testified she suffers from a serious mental illness that led to her strange behavior March 9, including shoving a sheriff’s deputy that resulted in her arrest.
The psychiatrist said her illness causes her to experience delusions and hallucinations but can be controlled by medication. Problem is, Brim has stopped taking her meds several times since becoming a judge in 1994.
Brim, 54, suspended with pay since March as a traffic court judge at the Markham courthouse, has been hospitalized five times since 1994 for mental breakdowns. There have been incidents of erratic behavior on the bench, and in 2004 she was removed from her courtroom by paramedics after a breakdown, according to testimony at her trial.
Despite such a history and local bar associations repeatedly finding her unqualified to be a judge, Brim was retained by voters in 2000, 2006 and last fall with the full support of the Cook County Democratic Party. How could that be, you ask?
The short answer is that it’s Cook County — where judges too often are chosen to run for election through cronyism and party loyalty rather than on knowledge of the law, proven legal prowess and proper temperament.
Once they’re elected, judges stand for retention every six years and need 60 percent of the vote. Most voters know little or nothing about the judges. So many skip the judicial ballot, while the party faithful vote by party. The result — it’s extremely rare for a judge not to be retained.
This page has advocated a change to merit selection of judges, where a nonpartisan commission evaluates judicial candidates and recommends to an appointing authority. If there ever was an argument for that, it’s the case of Cynthia Brim.