Majority of local judicial candidates 'like' Facebook as additional campaign tool

Bethany Krajelis Sep. 6, 2012, 10:00am






Thanks to his 22-year-old son and his barber, Hamel attorney Thomas Burkart has embraced social media as an additional tool in his
campaign for circuit judge.

And he's not alone.

A Facebook search of the 17 candidates seeking election or retention to the Fifth District Appellate Court and the circuit courts in Madison and St. Clair counties shows that at least a dozen have a presence on the popular social media website.

While the majority of local judicial candidates have tapped into the social media frenzy as part of their campaigns, it appears they all approach the task a little differently.

Some candidates post to their Facebook pages daily or weekly while others stay relatively quiet as they let their "fans" and "friends" leave messages of support. Some run their own Facebook pages while others assign the job to their campaign staffs.

Family photos appear on some candidates' pages while others focus solely on their campaign events. The Facebook pages of some area judicial candidates have garnered more than 1,000 "likes" while others hover in the double-digits.

Differences aside, it's clear that the majority of the local candidates are using social media as a way to get their message out and keep the public informed, something that has become the norm in politics since President Barack Obama jumped on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagon in his 2008 race for the White House.

Joining social media

Burkart, a Republican, joined Facebook in January. His Democratic opponent for a circuit judgeship, Madison County Associate Judge Napp, created her page in March.

After he decided he was going to run for the bench late last year, Burkart said his son, a recent college graduate, taught him how to use Facebook and Twitter, both of which he now utilizes along with a campaign website, blog and traditional campaigning efforts.

While his son got him involved early on in his campaign, Burkart said his young barber convinced him to up his social media game. Burkart said she told him that the primary way her generation gets its news is through social media.

That conversation, as well as more with his son, led Burkart to put "QR Codes" on his business cards. With the help of a smartphone, these codes take people directly to his campaign website where they can read more about his campaign.

Both Burkart and Napp have fairly active Facebook pages. Napp did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment for this story.

Burkart posted nearly a dozen times in August. Some of his posts include links to his blog posts on why he believes judicial candidates shouldn't accept donations from lawyers.

He also had a handful of recent posts that highlighted issues such as "private property rights vs. eminent domain for private economic purpose," and "rule of law vs. evolving Constitution." They all ended with "Vote-Judicial Elections matter!"

Napp posted slightly more than Burkart last month and her page shows that several Facebook users left her comments, some of which asked for campaign signs or voiced their support.

Her most recent posts show photos of her and her supporters at the
Granite City Labor Day parade, as well as details on her endorsements and upcoming fundraisers.

Napp also posted several statements of support from area politicians, court officials, former clients and defendants, including one who updated the judge on their sobriety before thanking her for not giving up on them in the circuit's drug court program.

"I appreciate so much hearing a positive story like this," Napp wrote in the post about the drug court participant. "I see people changing their lives every day in Drug Court."

Using Facebook to connect

Phil Molfese is the founder and president of Grainger Terry, a Chicago-based political consulting firm that has worked with several Cook County judicial candidates over the years.

He said social media has become a big part of political campaigns in recent years and can be helpful in judicial races, most of which he says come down to name recognition.

Despite their importance, Molfese said judicial races just don't get as much public attention as candidates seeking election to the Illinois legislature or U.S. Congress.

"Judicial campaigns are a really different animal than a traditional political campaign," he said. "A judge is probably the one elected official you are going to have contact with at some point in your life, but people don't always pay attention to the races or stop voting when they reach the judicial candidates because they don't know who they are."

As such, Molfese said judicial candidates need to create a positive association with their name among voters, something that a Facebook page can help achieve in conjunction with traditional campaigning efforts.

"People tend to vote for people who are like them," he said, explaining that voters want to identify with candidates. "Ideally you would want to highlight parts of your life that others can relate to or be valuable for the position you are running for."

The strategy described by Molfese could explain some of the candidates' postings about community events, like recent Labor Day parades, as well as posts about their children.

It also could explain some of the photos on Judy Cates' Facebook campaign page. She declined to comment for this story.

Cates, a Swansea attorney running for the Fifth District Appellate Court against St. Clair Circuit Judge Stephen McGlynn, recently posted photographs of her riding a tractor and shooting what appears to be a rifle.

McGlynn's campaign manager, Matthew Pickett, said while the appellate court justice hopeful has a Facebook page, he doesn't use social media as much as some of the other candidates.

McGlynn's page has garnered about 43 "likes" since it was created in March.

Unlike some of the other candidates, it does not appear that McGlynn has made any posts himself. His page does, however, include several comments from other Facebook users voicing their support for the judge.

Pickett said he wouldn't doubt that McGlynn's campaign will start utilizing social media more as the election gets closer.

For now, Pickett said, McGlynn is using traditional campaign methods to get his message out, such as newspaper articles and area events.

Managing social media

In addition to trying to connect with potential voters, Molfese said judicial candidates have the added concern of adhering to attorney ethics rules and the Code of Judicial Conduct, neither of which come into play in other political elections.

Because judges can't discuss specific issues or personally seek donations, Molfese said they need to be extra careful about what they post on their Facebook pages.

Chief Judge Ann Callis, who is seeking retention in the November election, said she keeps an eye on her page to make sure it does not violate any ethical and judicial rules when it comes to campaigning.

Facebook, she said, "is so new. It could present some challenges. We have to be very careful on what we put on there, which is one reason I don't manage it myself."

Callis, who pays her campaign staff to manage her page, shares both professional and personal news on Facebook.

"It's so prevalent these days," Callis said of the social media website. "Facebook is a crucial part of just getting a positive message out and it's inexpensive."

While she doesn't know if having a presence on Facebook will actually make a difference when it comes time to count the votes, Callis said "it's just the type of candidate I am."

She said she posts about both family and her work on the bench in hopes of showing voters who she is as a candidate and person.

Callis recently posted about how proud she is of her daughter, who is set to start her practicum at a St. Louis school, and various endorsements and court initiatives.

Since her campaign Facebook page launched in April, Callis has garnered more than 1,500 "likes."

Like Napp, Callis' Facebook page shows several comments from fellow Facebook users.

One user left a post last month that referred to Callis as "the prettyes [sic] judge I have seen."

When asked about that specific comment, Callis laughed and said she pays attention to what people are saying on her page and appreciates the support.

In addition to Callis, Circuit Judges John Knight, Dave Hylla and Barbara Crowder, all of whom are seeking retention in November, have Facebook campaign pages.

Getting their message out

Knight said his daughter created his Facebook page a few weeks ago. It has received about 115 "likes" since then.

"I don't understand Facebook in detail. I have a general understanding of it, but I am not as tech savvy as most people that have come on board in the last few years," he said. "It's just putting it out there so the people that get their information from social media have a source."

He said he looks as Facebook as an additional campaign tool and something that appears to be gradually replacing older methods, such as robo-calls, bumper stickers and newspaper advertisements.

Although he pays attention to his page to make sure it adheres to judicial campaigning rules, Knight said he doesn't look at it every day because he doesn't want "to get caught up in the minutiae of social media."

Ronald Duebbert, a Belleville attorney running against St. Clair Associate Judge Vincent Lopinot for a circuit judgeship, said he uses Facebook because it's a great way to communicate his message in a different forum.

Lopinot did not immediately return a message seeking comment for this story.

"It's important to let people know who you are," Duebbert said. "The reality is people need to be comfortable with their candidates."

Duebbert said although he may not have as many "likes" as other candidates (he has slightly more than 150), he has received a lot of support via Facebook.

He said he manages his page himself and tries to respond to questions from fellow users.

"I'm no expert in social media, but I do believe it's important," he said.

While all of the candidates seeking election or retention to the Madison County bench have a campaign page on Facebook, it appears that a few candidates in St. Clair County have not jumped on board with social media.

A Facebook search of all of the local candidates shows that St. Clair Circuit Judge Jan Fiss, who is seeking retention in November, and St. Clair Associate Judge Andrew Gleeson, who is running unopposed for a circuit judgeship, do not have Facebook campaign pages.

In addition, the search showed that Democrat Brian Trentman and Republican Dan Emge, both of whom are Nashville attorneys running for a circuit judgeship in St. Clair County, and Fifth District Appellate Court Justice Melissa Chapman, who is up for retention in November, don't have Facebook pages either.

To view the local judicial candidates' Facebook pages, go to Facebook and simply search for their names.

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