Wexstten launches his campaign in September. Here, he makes a stop at the courthouse in St. Clair County surrounded by county officials who back his candidacy.
Cates lobbied state legislators in the spring legislative session for the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.
Gloves came off today in the race for Fifth Judicial District judge.
Appellate Justice James Wexstten said his opponent's negative campaign tactics are hypocritical and "a tremendous disappointment to me and to the voters."
Wexstten (D-Mt. Vernon) filed a formal complaint against personal injury lawyer Judy Cates (D-Belleville) for breaking a pledge to only run a positive campaign and for violating the Judicial Campaign Tone and Conduct pledge, according to a press release issued Thursday.
His complaint cites examples of negative campaigning, false statements and comments that Wexstten says impugns the integrity and independence of his tenure and the court system.
Cates' campaign manager Marty Morris penned a written response on behalf of Cates.
"Judy Cates wants to assure the voters throughout all Southern Illinois that she has kept her pledge, and will continue to conduct her campaign in a fair and honest manner," the statement read.
The statement went on, "The First Amendment guarantees that issues such as the independence and integrity of the judiciary can be freely debated in an election campaign."
Morris's statement fueled the fire.
He wrote that Wexstten cannot brag about his political endorsements in campaign material then "act surprised when Judy Cates raises the issue of the role of politics in the judiciary." Morris claims that Wexstten misrepresents that he is supported by Clinton County.
"Judge Wexstten's campaign has been told that Clinton County has not endorsed him as a candidate, yet he still boasts this endorsement on his website," Morris wrote.
Morris also suggested Wexstten acted improperly when he asked to meet with Cates in March to seek her endorsement.
"Judy, who had not yet decided to run, refused to meet the Judge, because she felt it would be improper to do so because she had a case pending in the Appellate Court," Morris wrote.
Wexstten countered that he recused himself from Cates' appellate court case after she declared her candidacy.
In a phone interview Thursday evening, Wexstten said the purpose of meeting with Cates in March was to seek the endorsement of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, not the endorsement of past-president Cates' individually.
Wexstten said that Cates' tactics "saddened" him, but he expected as much.
He said that he has received the endorsement of the Clinton County Democrats and will have a letter from the chairman later tonight for proof.
In his complaint to the Illinois State Bar Association's Judicial Campaign Tone and Conduct Committee, Wexstten asks the board to direct Cates to "disavow, correct and desist" negative attacks.
Wexstten stated in the letter, "My opponent has hypocritically launched her campaign with a series of negative attacks on me after having pledged to run a positive campaign based solely on her qualifications and experience.
"She even challenged me publicly to do the same in area newspapers."
The complaint cites false and/or negative statements in direct mail pieces, newspaper ads, radio ads and cable ads run by the campaign or by a supporter.
"My opponent is trying to impugn my integrity, reputation and character because I have won every major endorsement to date in this campaign," Wexstten stated in a release.
"My opponent somehow suggests that because I have the support of dozens of labor organizations and county Democratic Party organizations that I am somehow politically compromised. The bottom line is that my opponent sought many of these same endorsements, but did not receive them."
Wexstten went on to say that he has run for judge five times and Cates' attacks represent the first time an opponent "has stooped so low."
"Not telling the truth and running for judge don't mix," Wexstten stated.
The text of the complaint to the Illinois State Bar Association's Judicial Campaign Tone and Conduct Committee reads as follows:
"I am writing today to lodge a formal complaint that my opponent is in violation of her pledge to the Illinois State Bar Association Standing Committee on Supreme and Appellate Court Election Campaign Tone and Conduct. I ask that your committee review my opponent's campaign communications and request that she take appropriate action to correct, disavow or desist this communication.
"One of the stated purposes of this committee is to 'encourage judicial candidates to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary during campaigns.'
"My opponent has repeatedly made claims in advertising that, in addition to impugning my character, call into question the 'integrity' of our courts. In newspaper ads she is running throughout the District, she states, 'Say No to the candidate tied to political power brokers, say yes to Judy Cates – 'for the people… The only candidate who believes that politics as usual and political influence have no place in judicial races or in the courtroom.'
"This statement is an outrageous attack on my character, suggesting that politics is allowed in courtrooms. It also directly impugns the independence of our court system. I am submitting a copy of one of the ads with this letter. She has used similar but not identical language in radio and cable television advertising available on her web site. I ask that the Committee demand that she desist from using this or similar language in her advertising.
"The second violation of Ms. Cates' pledge occurred in fundraising letters sent on her behalf by attorney John Womick, attorney Mark Goldenberg, and two other supporters.
"These letters include a number of negative assertions about me and several attorneys who support me. I want to call the committee's attention to a clear and direct falsehood in the letter.
"Mr. Womick states that I did not support my good friend Bruce Stewart when he ran for appellate court judge in 2006. As a candidate myself in 2006, I campaigned by Judge Stewart's side and spoke on his behalf in my home county of Jefferson. I ask that the Committee direct Ms. Cates to disavow this letter.
"The final violation is that her billboards and signs imply that she already is on the 5th District Appellate Court by not including the word 'for.'"
Cates' statement in response:
"Judge Wexstten, who was appointed last February to the Fifth District Appellate Court to fill a vacancy, apparently would like to forego the give and take of a democratic election.
"Judy Cates was disappointed that he criticized her signs today in a press release, having had over two months to discuss any concerns he had with her, personally. It is readily apparent, to anyone who reads Judy's signs, that she has not, in any way, misled the voters. In fact, one of her campaign slogans, on her billboard, is "Time for A Change." This is not the slogan of a sitting judge.
"With regard to his comment related to the Justice Stewart election, I was the Campaign Manager for Justice Stewart during his campaign. I do recall one occasion, out of the lengthy campaign, where Judge Wexstten appeared with Justice Stewart at a Jefferson County dinner, as referenced by Judge Wexstten. I will ask that future information reflect that fact.
"With regard to Judge Wexstten's assertion that this Campaign has breached any pledge to conduct an honest and fair campaign, Judy Cates wants to assure the voters throughout all of Southern Illinois that she has kept her pledge, and will continue to conduct her campaign in a fair and honest manner.
"The First Amendment guarantees that issues such as the independence and integrity of the judiciary can be freely debated in an election campaign. Our Constitution was founded on the idea of an independent judiciary, and keeping it that way is an ongoing challenge to democracy.
"In 2002, when Judge Wexstten ran for this appellate position, the voters of the Fifth District did not think he was the best candidate, and he lost. For this election, he has decided to use political endorsements and political power brokers to increase his chances of success, and convince the voters that somehow, this support now makes him the best candidate."
"Judge Wexstten cannot boast that he has won the support of 36 county democratic organizations and 37 county chairmen in one of his television ads, or on his website, and then act surprised when Judy Cates raises the issue of the role of politics in the judiciary. (In fact, Judge Wexstten's campaign has been told that Clinton County has not endorsed him as a candidate, yet he still boasts this endorsement on his website).
"Several of Judge Wexstten's supporters, including some party bosses, have demanded that Judy Cates withdraw from this election, but she lodged no formal complaint against him.
"With regard to Judge Wexstten's complaint regarding integrity and politics in the courtroom, I would urge the voters to ask why Judge Wexstten has asked to meet with attorneys who have pending cases before the Court of Appeals. For instance, in March of this year, Judge Wexstten asked to meet with Judy Cates to seek her endorsement. Judy, who had not yet decided to run, refused to meet the Judge, because she felt it would be improper to do so because she had a case pending in the Appellate Court.
"Based on several representations which have been made to me, I am currently investigating alleged instances of other cases in which Judge Wexstten has sought the support of attorneys who have cases pending before the Appellate Court, and on which he may rule. It is my view, and the view of this Campaign, that the public has a right to know about actions by any judge that compromise the pursuit of justice in the judiciary."