ICJL says focus of '14 judicial elections mainly on Karmeier retention question; Group still seeks reform of judicial selection process

By David Yates | Feb 19, 2014

Because some Illinois judges “play games” and bypass the election process, one legal watchdog group continues to argue for the implementation of a new judicial candidate selection process.

If it were up to the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL), the current process of electing judges on partisan ballots would be replaced through a selection process. ICJL President Ed Murnane supports the formation of bipartisan panels consisting of lawyers and non-lawyers to screen and recommend judicial candidates.

He says that partisanship in selecting judges is a problem in Illinois where the Democratic Party has a stronghold in most of the state’s 102 counties.

“Illinois needs to change the way judges are selected,” Murnane said. “Judicial candidates shouldn’t be handpicked by a Democratic power structure.”

He said that many judicial elections across the state are uncontested by Republicans.

“Republicans are extremely weak in Illinois,” Murnane said.

And in some cases where an election battle might ensue, judges could announce they are seeking retention then retire after the point where an election cannot be held, allowing the Illinois Supreme Court to appoint a judge of their choosing.

“It’s a way for some of the political forces in Illinois to control who the candidates will be,” Murnane said. “This is not the best system in the world. In fact, it may be the worse system in world.”

A judicial retention vote differs from a general election in that voters do not choose from a list of candidates, but rather vote on whether to retain the current incumbent or not.

Murnane said no legislation seeking to reform the judicial candidate selection system would be introduced in 2014, as it is an eventful election year.

For now, ICJL has set its sights on May 5, waiting to see which judges will seek retention.

“We don’t know what the ballot is going to look like until after May 5,” Murnane said. “The real picture will be better known then.”

What is the organization’s primary focus in May? Whether Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, a Republican, will seek retention.

“His decision is of great interest -- we would certainly want to keep him on the bench,” Murnane said.

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