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The Chicago Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation Executive Committee on Friday withdrew its “qualified” rating for Illinois Supreme Court candidate Morton Zwick in response to a controversial TV ad in which an opponent of Zwick is criticized for death penalty cases. Zwick had until noon Monday to ask for a rehearing before the committee. Since he failed to contact the association for a rehearing he automatically gets a “not recommended” rating, said CBA spokeswoman Tamra Powell. Zwick, an appellate court justice from the 1st District, Sixth Division, is running along with three other candidates in the Democratic primary on March 21 for a seat on the state’s highest court. He was rated as “qualified” by the evaluation committee in December. Eric Adelstein, Zwick’s campaign spokesman, called the CBA evaluation process “a joke” and that the justice had never been notified of Friday’s meeting but read about in a newspaper. “These are people who are afraid he may get in there and make some changes because they certainly aren’t doing it,” Adelstein said. The ad accuses fellow candidate, Cook County Criminal Courts Presiding Judge Thomas R. Fitzgerald, of overseeing a system that convicted innocent men and sent them to Death Row. “The ad implies Judge Fitzgerald personally tried the death penalty cases that were subsequently overturned,” said CBA President Kerry Peck. Fitzgerald participated Friday in a forum on the death penalty sponsored by the Chicago Council of Lawyers and afterward said the commercial was “deplorable” and “trivializes an important issue.” “I’m tremendously taken aback by it,” Peck said of the ad. “I think negative campaigning has no place in judicial elections. “I’m concerned it may violate the Illinois Supreme Court’s” code of conduct rules covering judicial campaigns, Peck added. The Supreme Court rules prohibit a judicial candidate from knowingly misrepresenting the identity, qualifications or present position of themselves and opposing candidates. The association plans to inform the Judicial Inquiry Board of the alleged violation of the rule, Peck said. While not common, the association has previously withdrawn an evaluation on a judicial candidate in 1986. This was the first time it was done on a supreme court candidate, Peck said. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977, 13 inmates who have spent time on Death Row have been found wrongfully convicted due to prosecutorial misconduct and other reasons. Judge Fitzgerald was not involved with any of those cases. The television ad started running the week of March 5 and will be pulled “as soon as Fitzgerald takes responsibility for the problem and fixes it,” Adelstein said. Last fall, Fitzgerald was appointed to chair a committee formed by the Illinois Supreme Court to examine the death penalty system and make recommendations on how it can be improved. But that appointment was not enough and he pointed out that Gov. George Ryan didn’t appoint Fitzgerald to a commission charged with a similar mission that was announced this week, Adelstein said. “It took the Tribune series to get that (Supreme Court) commission. What’s he been doing for 12 years?” Adelstein said, referring to the newspaper’s investigative series on death penalty cases. “With leadership comes accountability.” Fitzgerald and another primary candidate, Illinois 1st District Appellate Court Justice William Cousins, Jr., were rated as “highly qualified” while Chicago attorney Christine Curran was “not recommended” by the association because she declined to participate in the process.

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