Illinois Judicial Panel Files Complaint Against Judge for Blocking Gay Adoptions

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Cook County Judge Susan McDunn faces discipline from eight-count complaint
February 5, 2001

(CHICAGO, February 5, 2001) — The Judicial Inquiry Board of Illinois issued an eight-count complaint Monday against a Cook County judge for allowing her anti-gay biases to interfere with adoptions sought by two lesbian families. The inquiry board will prosecute the complaint and seek appropriate sanctions before the Illinois Courts Commission.

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented the mothers on appeal of what should have been routine second-parent adoption proceedings, said the state Board’s action underlined the judiciary’s obligation to provide fair and respectful treatment to lesbian and gay people and their families.

“The Judicial Inquiry Board’s action is a forceful warning that bias against lesbians and gay men has no place in Illinois courts,” said Lambda Senior Counsel Patricia M. Logue, who argued the 1999 case in which the adoptions, as well as another judge’s removal of Judge McDunn from the cases, were upheld.

In an eight-count complaint, the Judicial Inquiry Board (JIB) criticized Cook County Judge Susan McDunn for rogue actions in two families’ adoption proceedings in 1999. (To protect the privacy of the children, whose adoptions eventually were finalized, the families’ names remain confidential.)

The JIB complaint rebukes the judge for disclosing confidential court papers, including the names of the family members, to an anti-gay group based in Washington, D.C., which the judge tried to appoint as a “secondary guardian” to the children. Judge McDunn also is charged with numerous violations of the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct for delaying the adoption proceedings, improperly questioning the mothers about their sexual histories, and failing to grant motions and orders to remove her from the cases – all due, the JIB said, to her personal bias.

Judge McDunn, the board said, committed “conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice and conduct that brings the judicial office into disrepute.” The matter now moves to the Illinois Courts Commission for a public hearing. McDunn faces possible sanctions ranging from reprimand to removal from office.

In the two adoption cases, known on appeal as Petition of C.M.W., two lesbian couples separately sought to adopt their partners’ biological children. Such adoptions secure a protective legal bond between both parents and their children; they have been available to gay families in Illinois since Lambda won a case establishing that right in 1995. Many other states also allow such second-parent adoptions.

Court appointed guardians and social workers had “highly recommended” the adoptions as in the children’s best interests, but Judge McDunn ignored settled law and orders from her supervising judge, issuing orders that “astonished” the presiding judge of the adoption division.

The complaint against Judge McDunn comes just days after a report by the California Judiciary Council called for reforms to address its findings of widespread bias and discrimination against lesbians and gay men in that state’s court system.

“Lesbians and gay men deserve fair and equal access to our system of justice. Judge McDunn’s case, as well as the disturbing findings of the report in California, serve as a reminder that we still must be vigilant to reach that ideal,” added Logue.

Lambda is the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS. Founded in 1973, Lambda is headquartered in New York and has regional offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.

For more information, visit the State of Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board website at:

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Contact:Patricia M. Logue 312-663-4413 x 30
Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)



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