ICJL files complaint against Cueto

Ann Knef Jun. 16, 2006, 1:00am

Judge Cueto and family

The Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) has filed a complaint with the Judicial Inquiry Board, the investigative body that oversees judicial ethics compliance in Illinois, asking for an investigation into political activity by St. Clair County Circuit Judge Lloyd A. Cueto.

The ICJL charges that Cueto violated the Code of Judicial Conduct by assuming both the chairman and treasurer duties of his campaign organization, the Committee to Re-Elect Judge Lloyd Cueto.

"We think it's pretty clear: Rule 67 of the Code of Judicial Conduct spells out activities that a judge or candidate for judge can not be involved in -- and one of them is soliciting or accepting campaign donations," said Ed Murnane, president of the ICJL, in a release.

"The definition of 'treasurer' for a campaign committee is the person responsible for receiving campaign contributions," said Murnane.

Cueto issued a brief statement claiming he had fixed the "mistake."

According to state records, Cueto filed a report with the State Board of Elections April 7 naming "Judge Lloyd Cueto" as his committee's chairman and treasurer. An amendment was made to Cueto's D-1 report, "Statement of Organization," on June 15, but details of the amended report were not immediately available.

Information obtained on the election board website indicates Cueto raised $1,750 from two contributors on March 2: $1,000 from the national law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson, and $750 from Swansea public defender Randall Kelley. Cueto raised $13,350 from 39 donors on Feb. 19. Contributors included individuals, businesses and attorneys including Rex Carr, Morris Chapman, William Gavin, John Hopkins and Rhonda Fiss.

"I take responsibility for the mistake and oversight in becoming campaign chairman and treasurer on March 30, 2006," Cueto said in a release. "I was never involved in the fund raising or financial activity of the committee. The fundraiser was held on March 2, 2006. The mistake has been corrected."

Last December, Cueto, a Democrat, announced he would not be seeking retention. An incumbent judge seeking retention must capture at least 60 percent of the vote to remain in office. Instead, Cueto decided to run for election to the same position which only requires 51 percent of the vote.

Cueto was first elected circuit judge in 1994. He was retained in November 2000 to another six-year term.

A Republican challenger, attorney Paul Evans of Shiloh, will face Cueto in the November general election.

Murnane said Cueto "ought to know better" about serving as an officer in his campaign committee because he is a sitting judge and one of five judges on the Illinois Courts Commission. The commission reviews investigations by the Judicial Inquiry Board regarding violations of the Judicial Code of Conduct.

Murnane said Cueto's lack of adherence to the law is "especially troubling" because he sits on the Courts Commission.

"It's another indication that Judge Cueto does not have a very good understanding or willingness to abide by rules and regulations," said Murnane.

Murnane said that a review of State Board of Elections' records shows that no other candidate seeking judicial office in Illinois is listed as treasurer of his or her own campaign.

"There ought not be a need for looking over his shoulders or pouring over state records to see if he is acting unethically," said Murnane.

The ICJL has examined all post-primary judicial candidates for appellate, circuit and subcircuit judge, reviewing the records of 78 candidates and 65 judicial-oriented campaign committees, the release indicated.

"It's interesting that our review of these State Board of Elections records shows that no other candidate seeking judicial office in Illinois is listed as the treasurer of his or her own campaign committee," said Murnane.

Murnane said that Illinois Election Code clearly provides that the treasurer is to account for all donations give to a campaign, making a judge holding the position of treasurer in apparent conflict of the Judicial Code of Conduct, which states that a judge cannot hold office in a political organization or accept campaign donations.

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