Group aimed at judicial reform continues non-retention campaign

Christina Stueve Hodges Oct. 9, 2012, 1:00pm

Phil Chapman chatted with members of the Citizens for Judicial Integrity Tuesday before the press conference.

Signs put up by the "Citizens for Judicial Integrity" can be found throughout Madison County.

The Citizens for Judicial Integrity had extra yard signs available to anyone interested, Tuesday, before their press conference started.

Highland resident Phil Chapman cited Madison County's "lawsuit explosion" in his push to drive four judges from their seats in in November.

Chapman, 60, held a press conference Tuesday outside the Madison County Courthouse with about 20 supporters from his organization "The Citizens for Judicial Integrity."

Tuesday's press conference followed the Illinois Chamber of Commerce's endorsement of Chapman's group last week, when Chamber President Doug Whitley said the Citizens for Judicial Integrity has "an uphill push," due to the group's small budget. Though the group lacks funding, it is not short on enthusiasm, according to Whitley.

The group seeks to unseat Circuit Judges Ann Callis, Barbara Crowder, Dave Hylla and John Knight.

"Due to recent revelations and scandal about campaign fund raising, we believe voters should not retain Callis, Crowder, Hylla and Knight in the November election," Chapman said.

Chapman told about 15 bystanders the court climate is funded by big donations from lawyers, and the current lawsuit explosion hurts the local economy and damages the local healthcare system.

Chapman also discussed what he calls the "Crowder scandal." Crowder accepted $30,000 in campaign donations from lawyers at three area asbestos firms in December 2011. She returned the money following public criticism after assigning those firms 82 percent of the asbestos docket for 2013.

In response, Crowder said her campaign contributions were legal and reported.

"The important thing for people to decide on in retention is to look at our work as judges in the community," she said.

She cited her participation in the Family Violence Prevention Council, her work as chair of the Third Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee and the four judges' recent "recommended" ratings by the Illinois State Bar Association.

"My record as a judge is public, just as everything I've done," she explained.

Crowder served as a judge for more than 13 years, was in private practice for 18 years and worked as a public defender.

Hylla was not available for comment when a reporter stopped by his office, and Callis was unavailable for comment.

During the press conference, Chapman was in the center of his supporters, who wore purple tee shirts or carried signs promoting the "No Retention" campaign.

"In 2006, Callis, Crowder, Hylla, and Knight campaigned, championing reform," Chapman said.

"Each person pays more for insurance just because they live in Madison County," he said. "Additionally, the judicial climate drives businesses from Madison County, while other businesses will not come here."

Chapman is a former minister at the United Church of Christ and a U.S. Army Chaplain.

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