Out of the darkness

The Madison County Record Jan. 8, 2006, 5:34pm

Want to earn a judgeship in Cook County? Either get the Democrat party endorsement, or make your name really Irish.

Terrie Adrienne Rymer tried this back in 1998. She changed her name-- legally-- to Terrie Fitzgerald Rymer. An opponent got her tossed her off the ballot.

The same year, Jewish attorney Benita Carol McGrath (a married surname) changed hers to Bonnie Fitzgerald McGrath, winning the Republican primary but losing the general election to a formidably titled foe, James Patrick McCarthy.

There and here, " ideal" names substitute for judicial campaign platforms when there's nothing else to talk about. Or at least, when the candidates claim there's nothing they can talk about.

So this week, we applaud the efforts of the IVI-IPO, a Chicago-based liberal interest group that is demanding that judges start stating their positions on prevailing issues of the day like abortion, the death penalty, and homosexual rights.

The stick-- stay mum and the IVI-IPO won't endorse you. And the group won't take "Rule 67" as an answer.

That's Illinois Supreme Court Rule 67, which holds that candidates for judicial office shouldn't "make statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies, or issues within cases that are likely to come before the court."

Historically, incumbent or "endorsed" candidates for judge have used the rule as an excuse to keep their mouths shut. Also historically, aside from their ethnic heritage or family name familiarity, Illinois judicial candidates were largely indistinguishable.

Judicial elections have a major impact on our society. It's about time we all started taking them seriously, not treating them as down-ballot afterthoughts.

Candidates for legislative office or the city council develop positions on issues-- what they will do if elected-- then scramble to tell us all about it with the hope of earning our votes. Running for judge should be no different.

And just as accepting campaign donations doesn't mean a lawmaker has been "bought off," stating positions on the prevailing debates of the day won't brand a judge as incapable of dispensing justice.

The law is the law. If judges overreach rather than interpret, holding themselves hostage to their own personal ideologies, we should at least know the substance of them.

The suggestion that voters are better off kept in the dark is as disingenuous as it is counterproductive to the health and credibility of our justice system.

So speak up, judges, and don't fret. The people's trust in you is based on your actions, not your words.

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