This is the first of three stories about candidates running for judicial seats in the 2nd District, which includes DeKalb, Kendall, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.
The Democratic candidates hoping to join the Illinois Supreme Court include the first Hispanic judge appointed in Kane County, an attorney who was voted the first female mayor of Highland Park, and a Lake County judge.
The three candidates – Kane County Judge Rene Cruz, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and Lake County Judge Elizabeth Rochford – are vying to represent the Democratic Party on November’s ballot. The primary is June 28.
The candidates are seeking to be elected to the Illinois Supreme Court in the 2nd District, which includes DeKalb, Kendall, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties. They would fill the vacancy of Judge Robert Carter, whose term ends in December.
If Cruz wins in November, he would be the first Hispanic Illinois Supreme Court justice.
Cruz grew up in a military family with his two brothers, mother and father, who retired from the Army as a sergeant major after a nearly 30-year career. Cruz, who was born in Panama while his father served a second tour of duty in Vietnam, moved around to many states during his youth.
Today, he lives in Aurora where he settled after law school with his wife and raised two children.
He graduated with honors from the Military College of South Carolina, also known as the Citadel, in 1992 and the Northern Illinois University College of Law in 1995. He has worked as an attorney in a general practice law firm for about 17 years at the Law Offices of Gil & Cruz working on high volume litigation and transactional work for predominantly Hispanic residents in Aurora and the surrounding communities.
“This allowed me to practice in just about every courtroom in Kane and the surrounding counties as well as in almost every area of the law primarily as a courtroom litigator,” Cruz said, who also touted his service with civic and community organizations.
In his current appointed and elected position as a circuit court judge and the presiding judge of the Kane County misdemeanor traffic division, he is well-suited for the job of Supreme Court Justice, he said. He said that has prepared him for the Supreme Court and he has a “clear vision and track record for improving the administration of justice.”
Cruz said he thinks his years of legal knowledge, experience in high-level decision-making, dedication to his community. especially to the Hispanic population, and his array of accomplishments make him a “highly qualified and culturally diverse” candidate who will “contribute to the overall discussion and decision-making of the court.”
Rotering, a married mother with four adult sons, earned her undergraduate degree in economics from Stanford University and a master’s in business administration from Northwestern University. She worked for a few years as an analyst at General Motors before earning her law degree at the University of Chicago.
At her practice, McDermott Will & Emery, Rotering said she focused on issues within the healthcare industry, such as corporate transactions, taxation, real estate, regulation and compliance, with a specialty focused on fraud and abuse.
After leaving the law practice, she spent decades advocating for students with chronic conditions, she said. This work involved working with families at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago and to get the Care of Students with Diabetes Act passed in Springfield, Rotering said.
Rotering served on the village Highland Park’s environmental and plan commissions, taught policy at Northwestern University and founded a legal aid clinic that provides immigration, domestic violence and housing assistance to about 1,300 people annually in Lake and suburban Cook counties, she said.
“I bring an established and public record of a strong commitment to ethics, fairness, independence, and transparency over my career,” Rotering said.
In her role as mayor, Rotering said she holds hearings, sticks to the rules of procedure, ensures due process, gathers facts, identifies issues, adjudicates “complex and difficult decisions within the rule of law under intense external pressures and public scrutiny.” These are all skills that “translate” into the role of an Illinois Supreme Court judge, she said.
Rotering said she has a decade-long, “proven record” of being independent, fair and ethical. If elected, she said, she will bring to the Illinois Supreme Court “the perspective of someone who has worked on constitutional issues, stood up to external pressures, and served the public in a balanced, transparent, and ethical manner.”
Rochford, married mother of two adult daughters, described herself as “a person of integrity with a deep commitment to fairness, equity under the law and passion for the work of the courts.”
She has been recognized by her judicial peers for leadership and integrity including awards from the Illinois State Bar Association, Illinois Judges Association and Lake County Bar Association, she said. She is endorsed by Secretary of State Jesse White and is supported by labor unions including the Illinois State AFL-CIO, legislators, the legal community and other stakeholders.
She has been licensed to practice law for 35 years and has worked as a Cook County assistant state’s attorney, private practitioner, Commissioner of the Illinois Court of Claims and hearing officer for four local villages. She serves on multiple advisory committees to the Illinois Supreme Court, including those acting on issues related to providing better guidance and training to the court system, combating bias, and expanding access to justice.
“My record of experience, leadership, and service is unmatched in this race and resonates with voters. My contributions to my community run deep,” Rochford said. “For two decades, I’ve worked to support and lift up those in need, as well as mentor young attorneys. I’ve been recognized for my work advancing women and promoting diversity and public service.”
Rochford, whose first professional career was that of an English teacher, said she has been recognized for this work by Lake County Democratic Women, Lake County Women’s Coalition, Diversity Scholarship Foundation, and others.
“My greatest strengths are my judicial experience, legal knowledge, capacity for leadership, and passion for service,” Rochford said.
She noted the improvements courts made during the pandemic, including utilizing technology, and improving the public’s safe interaction with the court system, which she said she would continue to support “in proper balance.”
“A disabled adult who was previously required to navigate the indignities of the court security process and subjected to the unfamiliar and sometimes frightening courtroom experience can now communicate with the judge from the comfort of his or her own kitchen table by Zoom,” she said. “The benefits in some cases can be extraordinary in advancing justice.”