Ann Maher Feb. 29, 2016, 11:19am


Democrat candidates for circuit judge in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit meet acceptable requirements for office, according to evaluations released by the Illinois State Bar Association on Friday. But, their Republican candidate counterparts got trounced in a poll of lawyers from St. Clair, Monroe, Randolph, Perry and Washington counties.

The poll, which was conducted in advance of the March 15 primary, shows that sitting circuit judges John Baricevic, Robert LeChien and Robert Haida, Democrats, each received scores exceeding 65 percent on the question of "meets requirements of office;" whereas Republicans Ron Duebbert and Laninya Cason scored well under the minimum threshold required for recommendation.

Candidates scores were:

Haida - 93.67

Baricevic - 88.58

LeChien - 69.91

Duebbert - 26.97

Cason - 21.81

It is not unusual for local Republican candidates to do poorly in these advisory polls which are conducted in advance of judicial elections and retention races.

Since 2000, area lawyers have given Republican candidates the worst scores in a circuit that has been dominated by Democratic candidates and judges for decades. Only one Republican has won a judicial seat in St. Clair County in recent history - Stephen McGlynn, who defeated Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf in 2014.

The scores given to Duebbert and Cason in this pre-primary poll are the worst in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit in 16 years.

Rounding out the top worst scores which resulted in candidates not being recommended in the poll were:

2012: Anne Keeley - 30.95 - Democrat who lost the primary to Zina Cruse, Democrat, who went on to win the general election in a race against Cason. The vacancy was created through the retirement of Milton Wharton, Democrat.

2012: Duebbert - 37.19 - He lost in the general election to Vincent Lopinot, Democrat, for the vacancy created through the retirement of Michael O'Malley, Democrat.

2012: Cason - 41.20 - A former Democrat, Cason had served as an associate judge from 2003-2015. In 2011, before she had switched party affiliation, she had received a "recommended" rating.

2002: Alan Stumpf - 43.68 - Republican who lost the general election to Dennis Doyle, Democrat, for the vacancy created through the retirement of Dennis Jacobsen, Democrat.

2006: Paul Evans - 49.63 - Republican who lost the general election to Lloyd Cueto, Democrat, for the vacancy Cueto created himself.

The election that Evans lost in 2006 was the only other time in state history where a sitting judge submitted resignation paperwork and ran in an open election to the self-created vacancy.

Cueto's move was considered controversial at the time, and legal observers also called it unconstitutional, however, his candidacy was not challenged in the courts.

This year, though, as judges Baricevic, LeChien and Haida seek to stay in office by the same process that Cueto tested, challenger Dallas Cook of Belleville seeks to have the judges names stricken from the primary ballot, arguing that the only way a judge can seek a successive term is through a retention vote.

Cook, Belleville City Clerk as well as a Republican candidate for St. Clair County Circuit Clerk, contends that the state constitution establishes that the only process for a judge to retain office is through a non-partisan retention vote that requires 60 percent voter approval - not simple majority partisan re-election style.

On Friday, Cook filed a notice of appeal at the Fourth District Appellate Court challenging a lower court decision in Sangamon Circuit Court that allowed the judges names to remain on the ballot.

How the poll works

The ISBA advisory poll is conducted by mail with ballot sent to all ISBA members in the circuit or district from which a candidate seeks election (except Cook County). Licensed attorneys who are not members of the ISBA, or any attorney outside the circuit or district, may request a ballot. Attorneys are asked to respond only if they have sufficient knowledge about the candidate’s qualifications for judicial office to give a fair, informed opinion. 

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