reasoned thought for an age of uncertainty
The Illinois court system has had its hands full deciding whether a challenge to Rahm Emanuel’s residency in his bid for mayor should stand. On Monday, the Appellate Court overturned a Board of Elections decision and removed Emanuel from the ballot, prompting the Supreme Court of Illinois to reverse the decision and order Rahm back on the ballot only three days later. While this may all seem like typical election-year drama, this type of turnaround is in fact very rare–courts do not like to embarrass their colleagues like this. Even further, elections are perilous territory for courts, and judges usually are loathe to be dragged into the process, especially because judges are often appointed by the very same candidates they are asked to review. What is worrisome in this case is the willingness of the two justices on the Appellate Court to issue an opinion so far off the mark and then to deny Emanuel any sort of relief from their order.
But first things first: what was the deal with the Rahm Emanuel case anyway? The issue was whether Rahm abandoned his residency in Chicago when he went to work for Obama. Burt Odelson, the attorney for the plaintiffs, had claimed that Rahm Emanuel failed to established residency in Chicago after he came back from Washington. This, of course, assumes Rahm had abandoned his residence in the first place, and that what this whole fight was about. When the Appellate Court reviewed the case, they skipped the step about whether Rahm had abandoned his residence in the first place. This is a monumental oversight, and it drew an acidic dissent from the third justice on the court, Justice Lampkin, who claimed that the other justices had pulled their decision “out of a hat” and were “meddling” with the election. Coming from an appellate judge, these are some pretty serious claims.
What is even more amazing is that the two ruling judges ordered Rahm’s name immediately stricken from the ballot and, even though the case was bound for appeal, refused to postpone the action. This of course annoyed the Supreme Court, because then it had to drop everything to prevent the removal of Rahm’s name from the ballot. So when the Supreme Court issued its decision, it did not hold back its criticism of the Appellate Court, accusing it of “painting on a blank canvas, with no applicable authority to guide it,” calling its logic “hardly compelling and deserving only brief attention,” and stating that the issue had already been resolved in other cases, “plain and simple.” Wow, smackdown.
In short, something was amiss here in the appellate decision, and the judiciary crossed a political line. When this type of misstep happens, it is usually not the case that the judges have bent the law to their political tastes, but rather that judges simply are human. They make mistakes and, yes, their political worldview does inform their judicial philosophy. That said, there is good reason to wonder whether some sort of political quid-pro-quo was going on here behind the scenes. I should note that all three judges on the Appellate Court appear to have connections to the Democratic party, and the justice writing the decision, Justice Hoffman had been chastised in the past by the Chicago Council of Lawyers for letting his political leanings stain his judicial reputation (in campaign material that criticized a LaRouche supporter). Could it be that the court stepped over its bounds in this case at someone else’s behest? Who stood to gain from this anyway?
When asked who was funding the litigation against Emanuel, the attorney for the plaintiffs, Burt Odelson, merely responded that it is “none of your business.” Odelson is in fact well-known for representing Republican candidates, and he was involved in the Florida recount litigation in the run-up to Bush v. Gore. But even more interesting than Odelson, is that one of the attorneys assisting him in the case was Tom Jaconetty, a top aide to recently elected Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios. During that election, Emanuel suppoted Berrios’ opponent, Forrest Claypool. When asked who was paying his fee, Jaconetty likewise deflected that “We haven’t really discussed it.” Riiight. Could this be a part of a well-orchestrated political attack from the Blagojevich-wing of the Democratic party? Welcome to Chicago politics, ladies and gentlemen, and we are just getting started.
While Odelson and Jaconetty were the attorneys running the case, the petition was brought by two Cook County citizens, Walter P. Maksym and Thomas L. McMahon. The New York Times describes McMahon as a retired police officer, though he was not just an officer, but a police captain. And who do you think the police union supported for Cook County assessor? You guessed it, Joe Berrios. Even more interesting is that the other plaintiff, Walter Maksym, is another lawyer with a long history in Cook County. Maksym represented the controversial founder of the cult-like self-help program est, Werner Erhard, in the litigation that ensued after 60 Minutes aired an expose on Erhard in 1991, which included allegations of spousal abuse and incest-rape of his daughter. Maksym also represented Landmark Education, which purchased the est program from Erhard under the label “The Forum,” in litigation against the Cult Awareness Network in 1994. This included multiple attempts to compel legal journalist Steven Pressman to reveal the sources of his book Outrageous Betrayal.
In 2006, Maksym produced a promotional film on Erhard and his teachings, and he runs a publishing business under the aliases Walter Maksym Publishing and Breakthru Publishing, whose titles include “Diets Don’t Work” and “One Hour Orgasm.” It is hard to pin down what Maksym’s political agenda might be, but he appears to be into new-age power politics. And with his extensive litigation history, one might wonder why Maksym filed as plaintiff in this suit, when he likely acted as a third attorney on the case. Clearly there are a lot of interests at stake in an election litigation like this, and certainly some well-funded politicians would only be too happy to achieve through the courts what they can’t achieve at the polls. Let’s just hope our judiciary continues to live up to the standard upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court.