Choosing the next associate: 'Do the Right Thing'

John J. Hopkins Jul. 16, 2015, 12:41pm


(Editor's note: This commentary written by Alton attorney John J. Hopkins was published originally on June 24, 2007).

Set during one long, hot summer day in Brooklyn, Spike Lee's 1989 film "Do the Right Thing" is at times raw, at times stylish, funny or very dramatic, but always thought-provoking.

Filled with vivid characters - Mookie the lazy pizza delivery guy, played by Lee himself; Sal, the pizzeria owner and his sons; or the author of the title quote, "The Mayor," played by veteran actor Ozzie Davis, the film moves from street side story, to romance, to in the end, an explosion of violence and bigotry on all sides, ending with no answers, only more questions.

This week's movie metaphor is chosen not for its content or theme -- the expose of racial attitudes heated under the summer's fire -- but only for its title. The mayor, a street corner philosopher, dispenses his free advice to all within ear shot, to "Do the right thing, Governor."

It is this admonition that sets the table for discussion, this worthwhile goal that is modestly suggested to the nine circuit judges of the 3rd Judicial Circuit as they deliberate the next selection for associate judge.

Lewis Mallott, on the bench for the past 15 years, is stepping down. We wish him the very best of health, happiness and peace in his next endeavors. On a side and unrelated note, Mallott is one of a long line of graduates of the now closed Assumption High School in East St. Louis who have gone on to distinguished careers in law.

Mallott - AHS class of '63, stands along side Judges Barecivic - '66, Cueto - '69, and Babka - '72 in St. Clair County, and Stack - '68 and Hylla - '76 in Madison County, together with attorneys John Papa, Bill Beatty and Richard Ryback - all '69, and Michael Bilbrey - '72.

The wonders of technology have brought forth all of the high school year book pictures, embarrassing though they be, by accessing the web site www.ahspioneers.org. Check it out, and you will find the 12th Congressional District Congressman Jerry Costello - '68, as well as the No. 2 man in the U.S. Senate, class of '62.

As a practicing attorney, Judge Mallott was what could be termed a general practitioner: one who, while there may be a slight concentration in one area (for Mallott it was labor law), day to day, all phases of the law - criminal, family, probate and civil - were the daily practice.

After his selection to the associate bench, this diversity continued, presiding over all aspects of the court on the 2nd floor, the area courts in Collinsville, Granite City and Alton, as well as major civil cases, including med malpractice cases and complex class actions.

Now, when it is time to select Mallott's replacement, should not someone with a similar background, a similar diverse practice rise to the top?

When the replacement for the retiring Lola Maddox was sought, the word went out that it was a seat reserved for a female, replacing like to like. It is not the same standard to be applied here, like to like? Is this the "right thing?"

At present, there are 18 applicants to fill the Mallott vacancy. They include three past presidents of the Madison County Bar Association, recognized leaders of the bar on a statewide level, attorneys with 30 years of experience in a wide range of areas, as well as younger applicants, with lesser and more one-dimensional experience.

Out of this pool, the circuit judges are charged by statute to select the best lawyer for the job. Not the most popular, not the prettiest, not the one that provides the most political advantage. But the best.

Obviously, this decision is subjective, protected by the indefensible veil of secrecy. To date, the court has rejected any idea of invited participation by the Bar Association, the members of which practice daily with the applicants, and have a working knowledge of the skills, work ethic, and general aptitude for the job of the prospective judges.

By observation it appears that the circuits do not engage in much collective discourse on this matter. With the division of the courts, such dialogue is even more at a premium.

Perhaps more talking, more open exchange of ideas, more listening to the litigants and the lawyers who represent them, and the system will work just a bit better.

The circuits are encouraged to seek out the truly best one for the job, the one with the widest range of diversified experience, one whose election will not be greeted by the practicing bar with a "who?"

There are several candidates that fit the profile outlined, any one of which's election will be welcomed with approval and respect.

This time, the circuits are most respectfully urged to "Do the Right Thing..."

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