Judicial PR initiative aims to improve image

Steve Gonzalez Jun. 9, 2005, 9:51am

Judge Wexstten

Judge Stack

Mark McKenna

Illinois Judges Association (IJA) President James M. Wexstten wants to improve the public's image of the state judiciary--which he says is under attack--by encouraging sitting circuit judges to go into the community.

According to a report in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Wexstten, who is circuit court judge in the Second Judicial Circuit in Mount Vernon, believes public confidence in the judiciary needs to be restored.

Madison County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Stack, a member of the IJA, said he thinks it's a good idea for judges to meet with the community.

"It is a dangerous thing when citizens lose faith in the judiciary," he said.

Stack believes the public lacks awareness on how the courts work.

"Unless they have been called for jury duty, most citizens really don't know much about the judiciary," Stack said.

Stack believes Madison County's reputation as the Number One judicial hellhole in the nation is undeserved.

"Just because some organization labels Madison County a hellhole with
no facts does not make it so," he said.

Wexstten, who was recently elected to the 1,000-plus member association, has said underfunded state courts undermine the public's confidence in an independent judiciary. He claims circuit courts in poorer parts of the state bear a greater funding burden because of reliance on property taxes.

Assistant professor of law at St. Louis University School of Law, Mark McKenna, said Wexstten's initiative is not surprising given the legal climate in Illinois.

McKenna cited the Class Action Fairness Act signed into federal law by President Bush in February as an example of how the reputation of some Illinois courts changed national domestic policy.

But he doesn't believe people's attitudes are any more hostile toward the judiciary than during other periods in time.

"In the '60s there was a lot of hostility toward judges over desegregation," McKenna said.

"It's a lot more acceptable to be critical of decisions you don't like."

On the downside, one of the consequences of increased criticism of the judiciary is that the job of being judge becomes less attractive for a greater lot of qualified individuals, McKenna said.

"It's getting increasingly unattractive to go through what you have to go through."

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