To the editor:

I do not question Jeffrey Felshman’s good faith with respect to his Reader article on IVI-IPO [“Fighting Over Scraps,” November 7]. Some months ago he mentioned to me that he didn’t know whether he would ever finally get the article into shape, so difficult was it to sort out the facts on the internal disputes in the organization.

Regretfully, he didn’t succeed. The inaccuracies in the article are endless. In this letter I’ll limit myself to the single subject of our judicial endorsements, since he quotes Jerry Meites to the effect that these are our most important because people need independent evaluations of judicial candidates, whereas opinion of candidates at the top of the ticket is formed primarily by the sound bites and the news reports.

A word about my credentials. I’m a supporter of the current IVI-IPO officers. I serve on the near south chapter board and the state board of directors. I’ve been a member for 35 years, and served as state chair at the time of Harold Washington’s election as mayor.

At the beginning of the article Felshman quotes from Meites’s Reader ad to the effect that 25 to 50 percent of IVI-IPO-endorsed judicial candidates in the 1996 primary were found unqualified by both the Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Council of Lawyers. He quotes the statement without comment as to its accuracy, but in the context of everything he writes about our judicial endorsements further along in the article he clearly believes it.

The ad’s statement was false. Only one of our endorsements was rated unqualified. The others were all rated “unrecommended,” a category used by these organizations for candidates who refuse to appear before them. This was the 25 to 50 percent to which the ad referred, the balance having been rated qualified. The fact is that the majority of black judicial candidates refuse to appear before these organizations because they assert that they do not get a fair hearing there. We have no opinion on whether this claim is accurate. But these candidates do appear before us and in many cases we decide that they are well worthy of endorsement.

After that primary we checked with some of the well-known lawyers (and ex-IVI-IPO members) who lent their names to Meites’s ad and found that they had never checked on the “facts” asserted in the ad, a shortcoming that I fervently hope is not also characteristic of how they practice their profession. With the new publicity that Felshman’s article gives the ad, it would be fitting if these signers apologized to the Reader’s reading public for accepting Meites’s statement on blind faith.

The article quotes Meites to the effect that from 1984 to 1989 we always accepted the Chicago Council of Lawyers’ recommendations. Not so. The chair of their judicial evaluation committee would give us a lengthy presentation and we almost always agreed with them. But they rated Miriam Balanoff as unqualified and we never regretted our disagreement with that. In any case the CCL later stopped doing its homework on time. For our campaign newspaper and sample ballot we need to make decisions 35 days before the primary, and for a number of years they’ve been completing their process too late for us, despite our appeals.

Now, to explain our judicial endorsement procedures: the main push to set up the subdistricts came from the Black Caucus in the Illinois House of Representatives. It was Representative Anthony Young who spoke to our board to ask for our support of the bill. We had always favored a merit system of judicial appointment, but in the absence of such we approved the idea of switching from county-wide slates, where the voters were utterly lost for guidance, to election by districts. This would also foster minority representation, always one of our cardinal goals.

With the passage of the subdistrict law we changed our bylaws, so that in the subdistricts it would be the members in the district who would hold an endorsement session under the same rules that we follow in contests for state representative or state senator. Every candidate would receive a questionnaire and would be scheduled to appear for an interview by the membership. The members of the chapter, including the attorneys among them, are fully competent to evaluate the candidates in their district.

In the remaining county-wide or Chicago-wide contests we continue to have a judicial evaluation committee that brings recommendations to the board. For each vacancy each committee member is pledged to contact a specific number of knowledgeable lawyers for evidence about the person’s qualifications and temperament, and the committee is also required to inform us of the candidate’s rating by the CBA, CCL, and the Cook County Bar Association if these are known in time. Although this group of candidates is not interviewed, they are asked to respond to our questionnaire.

The article mentions that the near south chapter is the largest in IVI-IPO, which is true. In the March 1996 primary all our endorsed judicial candidates in our subdistrict won. They were all people with established records as attorneys and records of participation in progressive community activities. In these days of big money campaigns, we were happy with our success as an organization of volunteers that makes its own endorsements and then campaigns for them–a rarity these days.

We will keep on doing what we’re doing!

Saul Mendelson

S. Shore Drive