Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch executive director Travis Akin advises voters in southern Illinois to take several upcoming judicial races in November seriously and "do their homework."
"Good judges matter,” Akin said.
On the ballot in St. Clair County will be 20th Circuit Court Democrat judges John Baricevic, Robert B. Haida, and Robert P. LeChien.
The three judges resigned from the bench effective in December when their terms end to run for election for the vacancies they created instead of seeking retention. To be retained, judges need 60 percent voter approval rather than simple majority needed to be elected.
Baricevic will face Belleville attorney Ron Duebbert, a Republican. LeChien will face former associate judge Laninya Cason, also a Republican. Haida will be unopposed.
While the judges’ maneuvering is not technically illegal, critics, including Republicans, have protested, calling it unethical.
“The actions of these judges has created a firestorm because it appears they are gaming the system to their own advantage,” Akin said. “These judges, who have received numerous campaign contributions from personal injury lawyers, are now following the lead of their backers in the plaintiffs’ bar who repeatedly game the system in the Metro-East to make sure they win and cash in.”
Recently, the Fourth District Appellate Court upheld a ruling allowing the Democratic judges to remain on the ballot in a lawsuit filed by Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook, a Republican running for St. Clair County Circuit Clerk. Cook's suit objected to the judges' candidacies on constitutional grounds.
“Judges should be held to a higher standard of ethics and fairness, but these three judges think they can circumvent election law and common sense standards to keep their jobs,” said Akin.
Meanwhile, the Fifth District Appellate Court judicial race will see Democrat Brad Bleyer run against Republican John Barberis in the November election for the vacancy created by retiring Judge Bruce D. Stewart. In another vacancy, created by the retirement of Justice James Wexstten of Jefferson County, Democrat Circuit Judge Jo Beth Weber will oppose Republican Justice James “Randy” Moore.
Akin says that the concern in Metro-East is that it has become a magnet for personal injury lawyers.
“It is important that voters elect good judges who apply doctrines of common sense and fairness,” Akin said. “Judges have the power to sanction personal injury lawyers who game the system but in many cases, judges receive the vast majority of their campaign contributions from these same personal injury lawyers, who have essentially turned Illinois courts into their own personal – and profitable – playgrounds. Electing good judges will make Illinois less of a magnet for lawsuits, and in turn, much more of a magnet for jobs.”
At the circuit court level, judges up for retention at the Third Judicial Circuit are Andreas Matoesian and William A. Mudge.
Matoesian, 77, is in his 51st year on the bench and is the longest-serving judge in Illinois. Mudge, who served as Madison County State's Attorney prior to being elected circuit judge, is seeking his second term.