Ann Maher Jul. 29, 2016, 11:02am


Fourth District appellate court judges have ruled in favor of three incumbent St. Clair County circuit judges seeking to be elected as if for the first time.

"While legitimate public policy arguments may exist for limiting elected judges to the retention process only, the 1970 Constitution was not written with such a limitation, and we are bound to uphold the constitution as it is written," wrote Justice John W. Turner.

The court's ruling handed down on Thursday allows Circuit Judges John Baricevic, Robert LeChien and Robert Haida to remain on the November ballot over the objections of Dallas Cook who had challenged the judges' candidacies on constitutional grounds.

St. Louis attorney Aaron Weishaar represents Cook, Belleville city clerk. They have argued that state statute requires sitting judges seeking successive terms to run for retention on non-partisan ballots.

Retention requires three-fifths majority approval or 60 percent, election requires a simple majority or 50 percent plus one.

Only one other judge in state history has attempted a maneuver to resign and run for election to the same position. Lloyd Cueto, also of St. Clair County did so successfully in 2006. He was challenged at the ballot box, but not in court.

The three sitting judges, Democrats, resigned last August, effective this Dec. 4, creating vacancies they intended to fill through partisan competition in the fall.

Two of the three judges face Republican challenge.

Belleville attorney Ron Duebbert will run against Baricevic.

Former associate judge Laninya Cason will run against LeChien.

The judges are represented by Chicago attorney Michael Kasper.

They have argued successfully before election officials as well Sangamon County associate Judge Esteban Sanchez.

Sanchez found that the word “may” in a sentence contained in Artile 6 Section 12 of the Illinois Constitution - stating that a judge may stand for retention - meant that the judges might also choose election. His Feb. 23 ruling was appealed by Cook to the Fourth District Appellate Court.

Parties argued before the Fourth District panel that included Turner, as well as Justices Thomas Harris and Lisa Holder White, on June 7.

In the written opinion, the panel agreed that the word "may" indicates something that is "permissive rather than mandatory."

Cook responded to the ruling saying he wants to appeal the decision.

"I want to continue the fight for what is right and fair," he said. "However, I have a legal bill that is over $60,000 that I am personally responsible for. Without help from others, I am not certain I can continue to carry this burden alone."

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