Judges don't deserve a pass

The Madison County Record Sep. 24, 2006, 7:56am

Most judges despise election season, even when they aren't running.

So we weren't surprised when Terrence Hopkins of the Fifth Appellate Court sounded off on campaigns last week to his hometown newspaper, the West Frankfort Daily American. The plaintiff's attorney turned state's attorney turned judge is a bold survivor of the "Challenge of 2004," which famously removed his court colleague Gordon Maag from their Mt. Vernon bench.

Safe, sound and out of the reach of the people two Octobers later, Hopkins had some choice words for the whole democracy thing.

"My judicial decisions that were rendered with the intent of both (Supreme Court Justice) Learned Hand's and Justice (Oliver Wendell) Holmes' exhortations of justice and equal application of the law were twisted into allegations that the court with which I serve was issuing opinions to allow child abusers to go free and trial lawyers to grow wealthy at the public's expense," Hopkins complained.

"Dishonest and destructive campaign practices... undermine the public trust in the judiciary and the aspiration of a civil society."

Voters' inexcusable inability to appreciate Hopkins' Oliver Wendell Holmes channeling aside, we average folks should take his condescension seriously. Here's a warning to take to the polls: despite their "exhortations," sitting judges don't all "aspire" for the same civil society you do.

A timely case-in-point: earlier this month, Hopkins made part of a three-judge majority ruling for plaintiff's lawyer extraordinaire Stephen Tillery and against Calfornia-based Intel Corp.

The ex-Marlboro Man is suing the chip maker over its Pentium IV product, which he claims isn't any better than the Pentium III. Madison County Judge Ralph Mendelsohn had the sense to throw the case out, but Hopkins & Co. overturned him on appeal. Now this class action show-- in which Tillery goads an Illinois circuit court to regulate microchips for all Americans-- will go on.

Herein lies a major difference in judicial philosophy. Hopkins believes Illinois courts have special powers to oversee commerce in any or all states. We, and Judge Mendelsohn, we presume, think the idea is as absurd and illogical as it is unconstitutional.

Rather, we think it would allow "trial lawyers to grow wealthy at the public's expense."

No matter how smart our elected officials believe they may be, public office is a two-way street. Judges shouldn't pretend otherwise. That men like Hopkins actually believe their "inspired" decisions should be above criticism is just another reason to bring it.

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