Proposal would require judges to recuse if donations exceed $500 within five years

Ann Maher Jan. 25, 2012, 3:36am



Legislation designed to keep judges from serving on cases where they may be influenced by campaign donations from lawyers has been introduced by State Reps. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) and Paul Evans (R-O'Fallon).

House Bill 4098, which was filed today, would require the Illinois Supreme Court to adopt rules requiring attorneys to disclose to the judge and any party to the lawsuit any campaign contributions made to that judge by the attorney or the attorney's law firm.

If the contributions exceed $500 and were within the past five years, the judge must recuse himself or herself from the case upon the motion of a non-contributing party to the lawsuit.

"The question of fairness in our court system continues to be a concern in Madison and St. Clair counties especially when judges receive thousands of dollars from the very same lawyers appearing before them," Kay said in a statement.

"Whether the judge was influenced by those campaign contributions or not, it gives the appearance of 'justice for sale' and is perceived as a conflict of interest. This reform legislation will remove the concern that campaign donations influence the judicial process."

The proposal comes in the wake of Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder's reassignment from the asbestos docket last month after she had accepted $30,000 in campaign contributions from lawyers days after she ruled favorably for them.

Crowder has said she did nothing to violate the judicial code of conduct.

"Unfortunately, the timing of some campaign donations and the entry of a scheduling order have led some to speculate that there might be some relation between them," she said in a statement last month. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

Evans said fairness and impartiality in the court system must be preserved.

"The measure holds attorneys and judges to a higher standard of transparency which benefits all who enter the system," Evans said in a statement.

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