Republican candidates earn 10-point margin over Democratic rivals in Fifth District Appellate Court primaries

Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Mar. 16, 2016, 12:11pm


Republican candidates seeking vacant seats at the Fifth District Appellate Court dominated at the polls on Tuesday, beating the Democratic candidate totals by double digit margins.

While each of the four candidates ran unopposed in the 37 counties of the District, voters showed strong favor for Republicans.

Seeking the vacancy created by the retirement last year of Justice James Wexstten, Justice James “Randy” Moore, Republican, came out on top by a 55-45 margin after receiving more than 101,680 votes, while Democrat Jo Beth Weber received more than 82,859 votes.

Seeking Justice Bruce Stewart’s seat, Republican John Barberis also topped his rival by a 55-45 margin after receiving about 92,649 votes to Democrat Brad Bleyers' 75,928 votes.

Results from Massac County remained unknown at press time, as phone calls to the clerk's office have not gotten through.

Justice S. Gene Schwarm was appointed to fill the remainder of Wexstten's term, but Schwarm plans to retire at the end of his circuit court term, which expires in December.

In spite of the overall district results, voters in the Metro East showed strong favor for the Democratic candidates.

In Madison County, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Weber (D) received 26,525 votes and appointed Justice Moore (R) received 25,187 votes for the Wexstten seat.

And Williamson County Circuit Judge Bleyer received 26,136 Madison County votes and Madison County Circuit Judge Barberis received 25,271 votes for the Stewart seat.

In St. Clair County, Weber received 20,892 votes to Moore's 18,310. And, Bleyer received 20,367 votes to Barberis's 18,133.

When compared to the 2012 primary, Stephen McGlynn, who ran on the Republican ticket, led the polls by a margin of 21 points, receiving 79,925 votes. His opponent, Judy Cates, who ran on the Democratic ticket, received 52,050 votes. However, Cates went on to win the general election in November 2012.

The candidates

Moore was appointed to the Fifth District Appellate Court in December 2014 by the Illinois Supreme Court after Justice Stephen Spomer retired.

He first served on the bench in 2007 when he was appointed to the First Judicial Circuit Court based in Marion. He then successfully ran for election in 2008 and was retained again in 2014 before his appointment to the appellate court.

Before serving as a judge, he was a solo practitioner in Carterville in Williamson County and served as a city attorney for Carbondale.

He graduated from Southern Illinois University.

Barberis was elected circuit judge in Madison County in November 2014 after defeating Associate Judge Clarence Harrison for the seat vacated by Ann Callis.

Prior to becoming a circuit judge, Barberis served as a part-time state’s attorney for nearly 15 years and was in private practice for 18 years.

Bleyer has served as a circuit judge in Williamson County since 2004 and presides primarily over the civil division.

He joined the bench after a 20-year career as a trial attorney. Prior to his career as an attorney, Bleyer was a teacher and coached youth sports.

He is a native of Williamson County and graduated from Southern Illinois University.

Weber has served as a resident circuit judge in Jefferson County since 2012 and founded the Jefferson County drug and youth courts. She presides over a variety of cases.

Weber also provides oversight of the courthouse and has previously led efforts to modernize the courtrooms.

Prior to becoming a judge, Weber served as a Deputy in the Illinois State Appellate Defender’s office, Associate General Counsel at Southern Illinois University, law clerk to four Fifth District appellate justices, attorney for the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Appellate Prosecutor and as an associate in a general practice law firm.

She is a native of Mount Vernon and graduated from University of Illinois.

ISBA rankings

A panel of eight evaluators with the Illinois State Bar Association’s (ISBA) Judicial Evaluations Committee ranked all but one of the appellate court candidates as “highly qualified.”

Barberis was the only candidate to receive a “not qualified” rating.

According to the ISBA, the comprehensive review “involves a detailed background investigation by members of the ISBA Judicial Evaluations Committee, followed by an in-person interview of the candidate. The Committee then decides whether to rate the candidate Qualified, High Qualified or Not Qualified for the judicial office being sought. Ratings based on evaluations are the opinion of the Illinois State Bar Association.”

Barberis previously told the Record that he was “very disappointed” in the results, but was not surprised by them.

He said the hour-long interview in February with the eight-member panel seemed to go well, and he was given positive feedback on what the ISBA learned about him during 40 hours of investigation conducted beforehand.

However, he said one of the panel members who interviewed him was an appointed official from Madison County whom Barberis did not support for re-appointment.

“The only question he (the official) asked was whether I was going to get financed by Bruce Rauner,” Barberis said. “How that has any bearing on my ability to be an appellate judge … It was very, very inappropriate to ask that.”

He said he answered the question about Rauner financing his campaign by saying, “You need to ask Bruce Rauner.”

Campaign finances

Barberis had not yet created a finance committee for his appellate court campaign as of Feb. 29, but he previously told the Record that he has not ruled out accepting campaign contributions.

During his 2014 campaign for circuit judge, he spent less than $5,000 of his own money.

As for Weber, she reported a total of $42,571.54 in contributions between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31.

According to financial disclosure statements filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections in January, 17 firms or attorneys who practice in Madison and St. Clair counties contributed $7,350 of that amount. In fact, roughly one-fourth of the $30,200 in itemized individual contributions came from Metro-East personal injury firms or attorneys.

Campaign financing for Stewart’s vacancy has not been as robust.

According to Bleyer’s fourth quarter fund-raising report, he had received $7,475 in campaign contributions from donors only in southern points of the Fifth District.

His report showed that his biggest financial support came from attorney Dale Aschemann of Carterville with a $1,500 contribution. Justice Stewart and his wife Marleigh contributed $1,000, and the Brandon & Schmidt law firm in Carbondale also contributed $1,000.

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