Meet Appellate Court Judge Candidate Mike Cortina
Scholarship Runs in the Family
Mike was born in the suburbs of Detroit, but grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana when his family relocated there in 1975 to be closer to his maternal grandparents.
His father, José R. Cortina, was a lawyer in Cuba before fleeing to the United States in order to escape the Castro regime. He stayed with family, worked, learned English, became a United States citizen, and eventually returned to school to not only earn masters and doctoral degrees, but subsequently studied to become a lawyer in the United States. As a child, Mike has fond memories of exploring the Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center while his father attended classes in order to recreate his livelihood in the law in his adopted country.
Mike's mother, Jean B. Cortina, was also admitted to law school after college, but declined the invitation to matriculate in order to pursue graduate work in foreign languages. Later in life, she returned to college in order to become a Certified Public Accountant, and scored the highest score in the State of Louisiana on the CPA exam when she sat for it.
Mike attended college at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. How did a kid from Baton Rouge end up at Monmouth College? Both of his maternal grandparents attended Monmouth College (Class of 1936), and his great grandfather was once president (James Harper Grier, President of Monmouth College, 1936-1952). Attending Monmouth College was an easy choice. While at Monmouth, he met his best friend and partner, Becky (Veselsky) Cortina, and married in 1996, after his first year of law school at Northern Illinois University College of Law. They have lived in Crystal Lake, Illinois, for over 20 years and have two wonderful adult daughters.
Why the Appellate Court?
A Scholar’s Curiosity.
Mike was once told by a law professor that he has a "scholar’s curiosity." In the course of his career, he has authored or co-authored over 40 articles, given dozens of presentations, taught legal classes, and co-authored a peer-reviewed article that was published by Cambridge University Press. When a legal problem presents itself, he can’t help jumping in feet-first in order find the answer.
One of his articles, The Bucks Start Here, was born from a discussion with a colleague where they disagreed on the correct legal process for a particular situation. Rather than just agree to disagree, Mike researched the subject, found authority that supported both of their interpretations of the law, and drafted an article with his conclusion that was published by the Illinois State Bar Association.
A scholar’s curiosity is an absolute necessity for an appellate court judge, and something that Mike inherently possesses. It is a relatively rare situation when a legal dispute exists in which one side is clearly in the right and the other obviously in the wrong. An appellate court judge needs to be able to review all of the facts from the trial court, digest the arguments made by the parties, determine the correct answer that follows the law, and then write an opinion about that answer so that everyone who reads it clearly understands why the decision was made in the way that it was. This is something that Mike does for professional enjoyment, so it is only logical for him to seek the office where he can engage in this activity on a full-time basis.
In addition, appellate judges must decide appeals from every area of the law, from traffic court to civil disputes to felony sentencing ... and everything in between. Because of this, it is vital for appellate judges to have had a broad and varied legal career that touched on as many areas of the law as possible. Judges with broad experience will not be learning the law anew each time they are assigned cases, and Mike's career has provided him with the opportunity to practice in several areas of the law. He tried his first case to a jury, while being supervised by a licensed attorney, before he had even graduated from law school – and won. After graduation, he prosecuted hundreds of criminal cases to judges and juries, and defended certain civil matters, with the Whiteside County State’s Attorney’s Office as an Assistant State’s Attorney. Mike went into private practice in the year 2000, when he and his family moved to Crystal Lake, which is where they still reside. Since 1998, he has practiced in civil and criminal law, state and federal law, litigation and transactional law, and now focuses his practice on commercial and real estate law with the firm of SmithAmundsen, LLC, a law firm of nearly 200 lawyers with 8 offices in 5 states. Mike manages the firm’s Crystal Lake office and is co-chair the firm’s Financial Services Group.
As a capstone of sorts, Mike was of counsel in a 2015, case before the United States Supreme Court where the Court ruled 9-0 in favor of the position that Mike and the rest of his team supported.
Mike is admitted to practice in all Illinois state courts, as well as federal courts in the Northern District of Illinois and Eastern District of Wisconsin. Mike is a member of the American Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association, Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois, Illinois Creditors Bar Association, and McHenry County Bar Association.
Balance the Bench
If elected, Mike Cortina would be the first-ever Hispanic appellate court judge serving our region.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the five counties of Illinois’ 2nd Appellate Court District – DeKalb, Kane, Kendall, Lake and McHenry are, collectively, nearly one-quarter Hispanic (23.07%). Kane County itself is nearly one-third Hispanic (32.4%). It is important that the judiciary – like other branches of government – represent and reflect the community. However, the 2nd Appellate Court District has no Hispanic judges.
Diversity is important. People of all backgrounds need to know that they will be treated fairly and equally by the justice system. Having judges from different communities ensures an important balance of perspective, understanding and experience. Diversity on the bench also fosters greater confidence in the justice system among members of minority communities. As the son of an immigrant father who also practiced law, Mike Cortina knows the importance of balance, fairness and inclusion in our justice system.