The Madison County Record Oct. 29, 2012, 2:24pm

A campaign flyer that criticizes St. Clair County Associate Judge Vincent Lopinot for accepting campaign contributions from trial attorneys was created to point out "unfair influence" in the judiciary, says his opponent Ron Duebbert.

The hard-hitting ad features a photo of Lopinot with a caption "For Sale," and mentions that St. Clair County courts have been rated "#5 Judicial Hellhole in America," according to the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA).

Lopinot said he would leave it to the voters to decide if Duebbert's ad is fair or ethical.

He said that contributions to his campaign have come from "a balanced spectrum of the legal community including the defense bar, plaintiff’s bar and those attorneys representing business interests."

"All of my fundraising efforts have been conducted within both the spirit and letter of Illinois’ election law and all of my contributions and expenditures have been reported to the Board of Elections and are available to the public to review," Lopinot wrote in an email response.

Lopinot, a Democrat, and Duebbert, a Republican, are seeking the circuit seat vacated by former Circuit Judge Michael O'Malley who retired in 2010 before his term expired.

According to figures from the Illinois State Board of Elections, Lopinot has raised approximately $100,000 this year through 227 individual contributions that have come from a variety of legal practitioners, but largely from area plaintiffs' attorneys. In addition, Lopinot also loaned his campaign $24,918 in March; it was repaid in August.

Duebbert strongly criticized the funding of Lopinot's campaign. He said he has pledged to recuse himself from cases in which a lawyer representing a party may have contributed to his campaign.

"My campaign believes, like across the nation and certainly the state, that lawyers and law firms are pouring in campaign contributions to unfairly influence the judiciary," Duebbert said. "I am not alone in that."

Lopinot said that as a sitting judge, "I am required to and I am fully familiar with the Judicial Code of Conduct regarding recusal and have in my career and will continue in the future to strictly abide by the Code."

Duebbert has raised $16,450 from 13 individual contributions, a few of which have come from area lawyers or law firms. He also has loaned his committee $64,000.

Duebbert said there is one method to stop what he says is undue influence in the judiciary.

"Number one, allow the voting public to know of it," he said. "Number two, once they know about it, don't elect those persons engaging in those activities."

Lopinot said he is aware that Duebbert solicited campaign contributions in the form of fundraiser tickets from "a good many of the same attorneys who donated to my campaign."

"Those attorneys chose to contribute to my campaign rather than to Mr. Duebbert’s," Lopinot said. "I leave to Mr. Duebbert to address his lack of support in the legal community."

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