Hackett QA: Political balance (at least not a monopoly) will help cure court's reputation

Ann Knef Jan. 14, 2006, 5:10am

Associate Judge James Hackett

Madison County Associate Circuit Judge James Hackett recently discussed his decision to run for circuit judge in the general election. Hackett, who was the only Republican in Third Circuit until Don Weber's appointment in September, will run unopposed in the March primary, but will challenge colleague Associate Judge Barbara Crowder, a Democrat, in November.

In the following interview, Hackett says a politically balanced court is one step toward repairing Madison County's damaged reputation.

Q: Your decision to run, was it a difficult one to make?

A: Was it tough? Yes, it was for a lot of reasons. I am not a politically ambitious person. I feel very lucky to be where I am at. It (running for office) is demanding. It takes a little thought to jump into a race.

Putting yourself out there and asking for something from people, that is a difficult thing to do. I thought it was the right thing to do both personally and professionally. I don't mean for this to sound corny, but for the greater good. I still feel that way.

The county and judges have been criticized and the reputation of the county has suffered greatly over the last few years. This is something I feel where I can do some good.

It disturbs me that people measure the courts by the reputation that we have developed over the last few years.

It hurts a lot of people, the judges and community. People have to believe the courts are working the right way.

Democrat-Republican, everyone agrees that we have to have faith that what our courts are doing is trust-worthy.

Perfect courts are ones that we don't have to discuss much.

The attention (Madison County) gets at times is merited. But people want to go back to feeling rest assured.

Q: There is risk associated with losing this race. You could be out of a job. Your thoughts?

A: It's a possibility. I don't know. I hope it all turns out all right. Once I stepped into it, I expected to give it my all.

Q: If you do not win the circuit judge race, do you believe you would get re-appointed as an associate judge?

A: I'd have to rely on the judges here to make that decision.

Q: What did you do to line up support?

A: Once I discussed it with my family and decided, I called Rosalie Davis (chairman of the Madison County Republican Central Committee) to see if she knew of any hesitation (to endorse). I called a few people to see how they would react to it, people in the political world.

Q: How many signatures did you obtain on your filing petitions? Describe how that worked.

A: I needed 500 and I got 1,800. I was overwhelmed by the kindness shown to me. I had extremely good reactions from friends.

It was a good first step, indicating I can push this.

Q: How much money do you think you'll have to raise to run the campaign?

A: I don't have a good indication at this point. So much depends on how it develops.

People expect a little more out of judge's race.

As far as total expenditures, it will be in the tens of thousands. I don't expect the astronomical numbers of the Maag-Karmeier race, but we'll see.

Q: Your opponent in the general election will be Associate Judge Barbara Crowder. Will it be uncomfortable running against an associate-a co-worker so to speak?

A: It will and it won't be uncomfortable. Between the two of us we'll make adjustments and not have animosity. We'll still be cordial and like each other after the race win or lose.

We do have friends and associates that we work with in common and it may be uncomfortable for them. We'll want to minimize that. I don't want to get anyone in an uncomfortable situation. We do have to work with the same people.

(Having said that), experience and background is what I think needs to be (addressed) here. I will have to make those differences obvious, so to that extent campaigning will have some distinction.

I don't expect mudslinging or dredging for petty slanders or anything like that.

Q: Do you think you will garner bi-partisan support?

A: Yes, I do. I don't believe this is just a Republican versus Democrat question. I think it is about what is good for the courts and the county.

I can't think of one type of voter that I won't be attempting to persuade.

It is a better thing for the courts and the county to have balance on the courts, and it starts with political balance.

There are 21 judges in the (Third Circuit). Up until Judge Weber was appointed I was the only Republican. Now there are two of us. There are no elected Republican judges.

(Judge Hackett explains that an electorate tends to favor political balance, as seen in legislatures).

It's no different with the courts. People perceive it as a place where it is appropriate to have a political balance, at least not a political monopoly. Most peoples' inclination is that balance is fair.

Secondly, everyone in this county suffers under the (hellhole) reputation-businessmen and women, salesmen (and women)-people who don't have direct dealings. It makes them uncomfortable to read the criticism and have embarrassment.

And to that end I believe people will put someone in place where a record of fair service is established and where there is a record of not having an agenda for a particular class or group, and that that person helps solve problems.

A belief that there is trust and balance goes a long way to cure (negative) public perception.

…I have reliably demonstrated to other judges what they ask of me. I have maintained a good reputation among lawyers.

The bar poll results (taken once every four years) have been very favorable. In 1999, I had the highest ranking of associate judges (in Madison County) and was in the top 20 in the state.

In 2003, I had the highest ranking in circuit and was in the top 20 in the state.

Q: Will your campaign be aligned with Circuit Judge Don Weber's campaign?

A: We haven't discussed it yet. There will be an overlap of efforts. He'll run his, I'll run mine.

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