The Cook County Democratic Party is under fire after refusing to endorse Democratic Chicago Judge Michael Toomin, “a careful, conscientious and somewhat conservative jurist,” for retention.
While the party, run by Toni Preckwinkle, claimed that the decision became because Toomin has an “outdated approach to juvenile justice,” Toomin believes it is “retaliation” for his oversight exercised in appointing special prosecutor Dan Webb to investigate why all 16 felony charges against actor Jussie Smollett were dropped by the state’s attorney’s office in 2019.
“What this appears to be is retaliation for some perceived failing of my service as a presiding judge, and retaliation means in this case a blatant rejection of the overruling conflict of judicial independence,” Toomin said. “It just seems like it was preordained, that this was the way it was supposed to be, and they arrived with the result that they wanted to. And that’s wrong.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also expressed “deep concern” for the decision agreeing that “it looks like retaliation.”
“The optics of this are terrible,” she said.
Toomin appointed a prosecutor after a potential conflict of interest arose with the original presiding judge over the Smollett case, in which the actor allegedly staged a racist and homophobic hate crime in the middle of a Chicago polar vortex. Toomin appointed Webb to examine how Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx “botched the Smollett case.” Webb then created a special grand jury which “charged Smollett again with six counts of disorderly conduct.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, “Webb has since concluded that Foxx and her subordinates abused their discretion and misled the public but did not commit crimes,” and “Toomin recently ruled that Webb’s full report cannot be publicly released.”
Despite the party’s claims that their refusal to endorse Toomin stems from how he has handled juvenile justice efforts, including a ruling ordering two 12-year-old boys to be jailed because “they were a threat to society and to themselves,” the party still recommended retention for another Democratic candidate, Judge Jackie Portman-Brown, who was punished for her history of mishandling juvenile justice by physically dragging a child into a holding cell.
“Without [the endorsement], it’s not going to deter me,” Toomin said. “You’d like all the support and help that you can get when you’re running for office, but I’m not going to be persuaded to change my outlook. And I feel that I can succeed.”
The lack of endorsement by the party was not the only deterrent placed on Toomin’s retention campaign. Toomin also said that someone impersonating him sent a suspicious email containing “withdrawal paperwork” to the Illinois Secretary of State’s office in late August. While Toomin previously considered withdrawing his name from the race, he confirmed to the secretary’s office that he was not the one who sent the email.
“I never did (withdraw), and then this thing came up where now I’m involved in some grand intrigue,” he said. “Either a great plan or just somebody playing a joke. It wouldn’t have been a joke if whoever did this was successful and I end up not knowing until I’m already off the ballot.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, the attempted withdrawal is being investigated by the Secretary of State Police.