Judicial selection mimics Charlie Brown's 'Great Pumpkin' tale

John J. Hopkins Oct. 30, 2005, 5:10am

As regular readers of “Sidebar" know, it has been my custom to pick out a classic movie, briefly talk about its highlights, then tie it into some aspect of the legal system here in Madison County.

For this Halloween column I have decided to break with precedent and use the 1966 classic televisions special, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” as my model.

Not that there weren’t a host of potential classic horror films that could be relevant, such as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “Dracula... the Blood Sucker,” or “Dawn of the Dead,” to name just a few.

But, “Great Pumpkin” is my choice. After almost 40 years, it still holds up.

While Linus is once again disappointed, waiting in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to appear, it remains a great concept. Featuring the distinctive piano score by Vincent Guardli, it is the story of a child’s faith in an idea scorned by everyone else.

It tells the tale of Lucy, the cynic’s cynic criticizing everything, and the perpetual disappointment of Charlie Brown, who as the children compare their tricks--some get a popcorn ball, some get cookies, others chocolate--poor Charlie Brown gets a rock.

It even features the threat of litigation, as Sally, younger sister of Charlie Brown, after wasting her night waiting in the pumpkin patch with Linus, missing tricks or treats in the process, loudly announces her intention to sue for damages..

As I watched the “Great Pumpkin” for the umpteenth time on Tuesday night, my thoughts turned to the events some 24 hours previously, when the Madison County Democratic Central Committee met at the Sports Tap in Alton.

The purpose was to vote on which candidate to endorse in the upcoming primary election in March of 2006, the special election mandated by statute to elect the circuit judge to serve out the unexpired term of recently retired Judge Phil Kardis.

Such an election is required, irrespective of the yet-to-be -announced pick by Supreme Court Justice Karmier, an election to determine who will serve from December 2006 to December 2008.

While the probability of a Republican November opponent is very real, the truth is that the winner of the Democratic primary is the odds-on favorite, and the endorsed candidate stands head and shoulders above all challengers, and is the de facto winner, if history holds true.

So the stakes were high, the rewards great.

This year, as in years past, the nominees appeared before the Central Committee, making their pitch as to why they should be the anointed one, playing their cards as it were.

One played the race card, one played the gender card, one played the family card, and one guy just played the accordion.

Ultimately, my long time friend and former associate David Hylla was rewarded for his hard work and loyalty with the party nod. While I applaud and support the choice, I question whether or not there might not be a better way to select a circuit judge candidate.

Like Linus hopefully waiting in the pumpkin patch for an event that is not, would not and could not come to pass, the majority of the candidates left disappointed. Like Charlie Brown, they got rocks instead of candy.

It has been said that the result, not the journey, is what counts. In this case, I fully agree. But still, I question whether a system cannot be fashioned to distinguish between judicial and all other elections.

While the value of merit selection is the subject of another day, perhaps the time has come to examine the process that draws no distinction between the means of selection for county clerk, township road commissioner and members of the bench.

While technically fungible and interchangeable, the reality is we have criminal judges, and we have civil judges, and rarely doth the twain do meet.

In this particular case, the replacement was for Kardis, a civil judge. Yet the spot was open to any and all with a valid law license, irrespective of experience in the courtroom.

In the medical profession--my second favorite profession--if there arose the need to replace a surgeon, would a gynecologist apply, or a dermatologist, or a foot doctor? I think not.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, perhaps some adoption of a more selective criteria would be in order, and should be actively considered.

The accordion player carried the day, and for that I am glad. David will be a fine and ethical candidate, and if elected, a credit to the bench.

The system worked this time and selected what I believe to be the best candidate. Success, however personal, does not mean perfection. I offer no solution, just raise questions, make observations.

I will leave the proposals for change to others who may be similarly inclined. I only hope that in the future, waiting in the pumpkin patch can be avoided.

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