Third Circuit judges reach out on ICJL survey

Ann Knef Aug. 22, 2006, 1:14am

Circuit Judge John Knight

Chief Circuit Judge Ann Callis

Circuit Judge Charles Romani

Judicial candidates seeking retention in the Third Judicial Circuit are reaching out to voters so that in November they aren't shut out by a well educated public.

"Historically, retention has been almost a 'rubber stamp' but that has changed in recent years and many judges seeking retention are working hard to earn voter support," Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, said.

Murnane commended Circuit Judges Ann Callis, chief judge of the Third Circuit, John Knight of Bond County and Charles Romani of Madison County, for recently answering a questionnaire prepared by the ICJL for judges throughout Illinois and candidates for judicial office.

"It can be useful to read what sitting judges consider the most serious obstacle or detriment to fulfilling their responsibilities," Murnane said.

Murnane said his "favorite" questions on the list are ones related to civil litigation reforms, frivolous lawsuits and damage limitations.

"They don't get into specific cases, they don't ask a judge (or candidate for judge) to describe his or her philosophy," Murnane said. "They do, however, give the candidate the opportunity to demonstrate that they have thought about the question and the job of being a judge and are willing to state their views."

Murnane said the ICJL's political action committee, JUSTPAC, has endorsed more Democrats for judge than Republicans since it began judicial endorsements more than eight years ago.

"Although we're a few weeks away from final 2006 endorsements, I would predict right now that the Democrat preponderance probably will continue this year."

Judicial retention races are different than "open" seat races in that candidates do not run as Democrats or Republicans. Callis, Knight and Romani are Democrats.

Judges seeking retention must also receive 60 percent of the voters' support.

In the 20th Judicial Circuit (St. Clair County), Democrat judges running for retention or election -- Lloyd Cueto, Jan Fiss and Milton Wharton -- have not submitted answers to the ICJL's candidate questionnaire.

Cueto withdrew from retention last December and instead filed to run as a Democratic candidate. The maneuver has been called unconstitutional by a legal ethics professor.

Cueto's Republican opponent, O'Fallon attorney Paul Evans, has completed the ICJL's survey.

Responses from all participating candidates can be found on the website.

Below are responses from Callis, Knight and Romani to the last five questions on the ICJL questionnaire.

Are there civil litigation reforms that you would like to see enacted to remedy particular problems that you have detected, either as a practicing lawyer or as a sitting judge? Are there reforms that would benefit the civil justice system? What needs to be changed? Are there reforms that would benefit the civil justice system? What needs to be changed? Should the enactment of any such changes be the province of the legislature, the Supreme Court or by Constitutional amendment?

Callis: In this circuit, I have effectuated several reforms, listed as follows: limiting Motions for Substitution of Judge in class action cases, limiting foreign attorneys access to the court, opening court files, and Alternative Dispute Resolution. I will continue to maintain a dialogue with the public to enact further reforms when deemed necessary.

Knight: All governmental systems should be under constant evaluation and all possibilities for improvement, from whatever source, should remain open to consideration. I believe that the Illinois legislature should be the primary source of reform legislation, with all branches of government bearing their share of responsibility to promote justice.

Romani: An open dialogue with the public and a constant evaluation of the laws are necessary to maintain a fair judicial system. A number of changes have been enacted in the Third Circuit and I have participated with the Chief Judge in assessing and evaluating those changes. I believe that all branches of government should be open to reforms as they become necessary.

Do you feel that our judicial system adequately deters and penalizes frivolous litigation? If not, what reforms would you like to see?

Callis: As previously stated, I support any reform that would better serve the public. Since becoming Chief Judge of my circuit, I have overseen the implementation of both significant reforms and new programs that have received a very positive response from both the general public and area attorneys.

Knight: Human nature insures that there will always be attempts at frivolous litigation, as well as attempts to suppress legitimate access to the courtws. I welcome any reform that addresses either of these problems in a balanced fashion.

Romani: I would support any reform that better serves the public. I believe that many of the changes that have taken place in the Third Circuit have been well received by both the general public as well as local attorneys. It is necessary to balance the system such that frivolous claims do not prevent the progression of legitimate claims.

Do you believe the Illinois Constitution precludes legislative establishment of limitations on civil damages? Are there or should there be distinctions among economic, non-economic and punitive damages?

Callis: I will follow any changes in the law that the legislature provides. I believe that is my ethical duty.

Knight: Consistent with my philosophy of judicial restraint, I believe that these are judgments to be made by the Illinois Supreme Court. It will then be the duty of the Circuit Courts to accept and enforce the Supreme Court's judgments.

Romani: These are issues for the Illinois Supreme Court and the Illinois Legislature to address. I will adhere to and enforce any changes in the law.

The so-called "English Rule," where the loser pays, seems to be a popular concept among Illinois citizens. Do you believe that a "loser pays" requirement in civil cases would help reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits filed in Illinois? Are there reasons why Illinois should/should not consider such a rule?

Callis: I am uncertain whether the "English Rule" would reduce frivolous lawsuits. We recently approved a mandatory pre-trial arbitration program that I believe will help our courts quickly weed out trivial and frivolous lawsuits. I will follow any law that is enacted.

Knight: Once again consistent with my philosophy of judicial restraint, I believe that this is a determination that is most appropriately addressed by the Illinois State Legislature.

Romani: Again, this is an issue for the Supreme Court and the Legislature to decide and I will adhere to and enforce those changes in the law. I am uncertain whether this rule would serve to reduce frivolous lawsuits.

What do you consider to be the most serious obstacle or detriment to you as a judge in fulfilling your duties? Has the problem been getting worse or has it been lessening in the past few years? How do you deal with this problem now, and what changes would you like to see alleviate the problem in the future?

Callis: One obstacle was the connotation that all judges in this circuit were painted with a broad brush, and individual endeavors by judges in other divisions, besides civil, were being overlooked. As chief judge, I believe I am finally able to have a platform to make significant changes to better serve the people, and to improve public perception of the judiciary.

Knight: Pressure exerted by public opinion or special interest groups sometimes threatens to impede impartial decision making. It is not an insurmountable obstacle. I continue to believe that the majority of the public will accept fair and impartial rulings, supported by a sound basis in law, and issued with a clear statement of the reasoning.

Romani: My responsibility and duty as a Circuit Judge in the Criminal/Felony Division is to issue fair and impartial rulings based on the current laws of Illinois. I hope to work with other judges in the Circuit to enact changes that allow us to better serve the public and improve the perceptions of the judiciary.

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