Riversiders vie for county judgeships

Two contested races in 4th Subcircuit feature three local residents

March 13th, 2018 3:02 PM

Left to right, David Navarro, Martin Reggi, and John Andrew O'Meara

By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

Two Riverside residents recently appointed as Cook County Circuit Court judges by the Illinois Supreme Court are running to keep their seats on the bench in the March 20 Democratic primary. 

But neither Judge David Navarro nor Judge John Andrew O'Meara are endorsed by the Democratic Party in the 4th Judicial Subcircuit in which they are running.

Why not?

According to state Sen. Steve Landek, who is Lyons Township Democratic Committeeman and the mayor of Bridgeview, it's at least partly because some Democratic officials don't consider either candidate true Democrats.

"Both [Navarro and O'Meara] were consistent Republican voters," Landek said. "They only voted Democratic once [that] we see in their life, and we feel that we would rather have somebody who represented more of our constituents' feelings and histories."

Navarro and O'Meara are running in two separate Democratic primary races in the 4th Subcircuit, which stretches from Palos Hills in the south to Franklin Park on the north and includes Riverside, Brookfield, and North Riverside.

In O'Meara's race, which has four candidates, the Democratic Township Committeemen in the subcircuit voted to endorse Riverside resident Martin Reggi, who is making his second run for judge after losing to fellow Riversider John Allegretti in the 2014 Democratic primary.

In his race, Navarro is running against Caroline Jamieson Golden, a lawyer from Countryside. Golden received the Democratic Party endorsement.  

Golden works for the Sotos Law Firm where, according the firm's website, her practice focuses on defending police officers and prosecutors who are sued in reversed conviction cases. 

Golden has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and a number of labor unions that typically support the party-endorsed candidate.

Navarro was a prosecutor with the Cook County state's attorney's office from 1993 until 2009, when he became the chief of the Public Integrity Bureau of the Illinois Attorney General's Office. 

He was appointed as a judge last May and is assigned to the central bond court, presiding over bail hearings and other pretrial matters in criminal cases.  

According to the Cook County Clerk's office, Navarro voted in the Democratic primary in 2016, but before that consistently voted in Republican primaries.  

Navarro, who grew up in Riverside and has lived there for most of his life, said he voted in Republican primaries primarily due to his friendship with the late Judy Baar Topinka and her family. 

Topinka, who served as state treasurer and comptroller after serving in the Illinois General Assembly, was the Republican candidate for governor in 2010. Topinka died in late 2014 shortly after winning a second term as state comptroller.

"We were family friends and we supported our family friend up till her death and then we didn't [vote in Republican primaries]," Navarro said.

Navarro said he is supported by Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, who also serves as Democratic committeeman for Proviso Township, the most populous township in the subcircuit.

O'Meara voted in Republican primaries in 2016, 2012 and 2008. He also voted in the 2010 primary, but no party was listed for his primary vote that year, according to the county clerk's office.

Judges in Cook County run in party primaries to get on the November general election ballot. No one filed to run as a Republican in the 4th Judicial Subcircuit so winning the primary is tantamount to election. 

O'Meara, who was appointed to the bench in 2016, says he considers himself a political independent.

"I have voted in numerous different primaries on all different sides," O'Meara said. "I'm not really one party or the other."

O'Meara said that he decided to run for judge in the Democratic primary because that primary is more broad-based and inclusive than the Republican primary.

Landek said that Navarro and O'Meara should have run as Republicans.

O'Meara, 51, has lived in Riverside since 2004. He was appointed to the bench in 2016 after being in private practice for more than 20 years focusing mostly on personal injury cases. For his first seven years or so he did defense work before switching to representing plaintiffs. He said he's tried about 75 cases in front of a jury.

O'Meara has advanced rapidly as a judge. He now presides over a wide range of civil cases in his courtroom at the Richard J. Daley Center in Chicago after brief stops in traffic and eviction court.

Reggi, 65, has been a lawyer for nearly 38 years and has lived in Riverside for 30 years. After beginning his career as a prosecutor, Reggi has been in private practice since 1985. He is a sole practitioner who focuses on criminal defense, secretary of state hearings, real estate work and bankruptcy.  

Reggi says that his experience and broad exposure to many types of law make him the most qualified candidate in the race.

There are two other candidates in O'Meara-Reggi race: Elizabeth Ciaccia-Lezza, a prosecutor in the Cook County State's Attorney's Office who lives in Westchester, and Danny Collins of LaGrange, a former assistant state's attorney who is now a solo practitioner focusing on workman's compensation cases and other employment matters.