Editor's note: Madison County Associate Judge Richard Tognarelli is seeking a six-year term as circuit judge of the Third Judicial Circuit in the general election. Tognarelli, a Democrat, did not face any opposition in the February primary, and has no opposition on the Republican ticket in November. The judge sat down for a brief interview Thursday.
Record: You have been appointed associate judge by the circuit judges in the Third Circuit for several terms. Why did you decide to run for election to Circuit Judge in 2008?
Tognarelli: I think anybody wants to advance, no matter what kind of job they have so I look at it that way that it's another step in my career. It also gives you the opportunity to [see] different types of cases and more difficult cases.
Record: You are running on the Democratic ticket for circuit judge, but you have no opposition from any Republicans. Are you doing anything in particular to let voters know who you are since you don't really have to run a campaign?
Tognarelli: It's going to be a low key campaign at this point. It's much different. Last summer I didn't know if I would have opposition or if I would even have opposition in the Democratic Party so it was a little more tense…but I probably will still participate in some activities but it will be much more low key, obviously; much more relaxed.
Record: Are you glad you don't have to raise a lot of money to run a campaign?
Tognarelli: Absolutely. That's one very nice thing about running unopposed is that you don't have to raise huge sums of money which I don't especially care for. I don't know any judge or candidate who really enjoys doing that. It's kind of a necessary evil because it does cost even to get posters and signs and stickers but it is very nice not to have to worry about that.
Record: Speaking of raising money for a judicial campaign, do you think that fund-raising done by candidates in any way could affect a judge's impartiality?
Tognarelli: I would never say that it couldn't, but I really haven't seen it.
Normally judges' campaigns are a little different. You're not allowed to keep any funds once the campaign is over.
I don't go look at lists to see who's contributed or see how much a person's contributed. I try not to do that and I think most judges do that. Like I said, I never said it couldn't be done but I have not seen it done and I think a lot of people go out of their way to see that it's not done.
Record: Would it be more fun to have an opponent in the race?
Tognarelli: Selfishly, I would say no. I pretty much like it this way. Again, you don't have to get into the fund-raising as much, certainly not nearly as much as you would if there was a contested race, and you know if you do name-calling or getting into issues, I much prefer the type of race that I have. I would never want a contested race, no.
Record: What are the biggest challenges you think you will face upon election as circuit judge?
Tognarelli: Well, you know I just think being a judge, whether you're an associate or circuit judge you face challenges everyday. The power of a judge is pretty awesome.
When you think that you have to, for example, in a divorce case decide custody of children that are maybe 2 or 3 years old and your only opportunity to see the parents or the witnesses is in a hearing for 2 or 3 days and you're supposed to decide where these children are going to reside for the rest of their lives, it's a very difficult decision.
When you have to impose a sentence, a judge can impose a sentence anywhere from a fine all the way up to life in prison or even death. Those are pretty serious decisions you have to make. I don't really think that the challenges are going to be any different as I had as an associate and I think the challenges of a judge…need to be taken very seriously.
Record: What are some of your observations about how things have changed in Madison County since you first became a judge?
Tognarelli: Well certainly I think the way the court is perceived much better than a few years ago.
Record: How would you describe your judicial temperament to voters?
Tognarelli: I mean I like to be fair I like to be open minded. I do get a lot of people to give their position; I like to hear the arguments from both sides; I like to consider the law that people bring and apply the best of the law. I'm pretty low key, I'm pretty mild-mannered.
Record: Have you always wanted to be a judge? Why?
Tognarelli: As a lawyer, at least one of my goals would have been at some point in time to be a judge.
Record: What advice would you give a student considering a law career today?
Tognarelli: I still think it's a very good career. It's a profession that affects pretty much every person's life one way or the other. Whether you're a plaintiff, whether you're a defendant, a corporation, or a business, a lawyer can be influential in all those positions so I think it's a very challenging job.