ICJL begins judicial evaluation process; Big races for area voters

By David Yates | Aug 6, 2014

The Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) has launched its 2014 judicial candidate evaluations process, seeking to keep voters informed about potential jurists who “can have a tremendous impact on the daily lives of the citizens of Illinois.”

Throughout last week, the ICJL distributed surveys to 69 candidates for election. Surveys to the 158 sitting judges who are seeking retention in November will be sent this week.

“It’s very important people pay attention to judicial elections,” said ICJL President Ed Murnane. “Illinois is one of the few states that elects judges on a purely partisan basis.”

Judicial candidates who respond to the survey will have their answers posted at IllinoisJudges.net. Candidates who decline to respond will be noted and publicized, according to Murnane.

“The judicial system in Illinois is very ignored,” said Murnane. “Very few people pay attention and there is little to no competition. People don’t know who these judges are and what they stand for.”

Once a judge or justice is elected, it’s very rare they are ever voted out office, Murnane said.

In the Nov. 4 general election, candidates seeking retention must get approval -- or "yes" votes -- from 60 percent of those casting ballots on the retention question. Candidates in contested races must receive more votes than his or her opponent.

“This is probably one of the poorest judicial selection processes in the U.S.,” Murnane said. “Judges have a tremendous impact on the daily lives of the citizens of Illinois. They have the right to take children away from families and sentence people to years in prison. People ought to know who these judges are.”

Even in groups of lawyers, Murnane says it’s a struggle to find an attorney who can name all the justices on the Illinois Supreme Court.

One Supreme Court election is on the ballot this year. Justice Lloyd Karmeier, Republican, is seeking retention in the Fifth Judicial District, which includes the 37 most southern counties in Illinois.

Terms for supreme and appellate justices are 10 years each. Circuit court terms are six years each.

In addition to keeping people informed, ICJL has submitted proposals to the state legislature in hopes of reforming the judicial selection process.

Murnane said he’d like to see partisan titles removed from judicial elections and have the elections held during odd year municipal elections, rather than during general elections in November when ballots are crowded with more headline-grabbing races.

He called the state’s partisan system “dangerous," when one political party dominates a bench.

Democratic judges prevail in the circuits that include Madison and St. Clair counties - the Third and Twentieth Judicial Circuits.

In addition to Karmeier's retention in November, Third Circuit voters also will decide whether to retain Circuit Judges Dennis Ruth and Richard Tognarelli to their second six year terms.

They also will decide between Associate Judge Clarence Harrison, Democrat, and St. Jacob attorney John Barberis, Republican, for the circuit court seat vacated last year by Ann Callis, Democrat, who stepped down to make a bid for Congress.

St. Clair County voters will decide who will fill the vacancy created following the resignation last year of Michael Cook, Democrat, who left in disgrace after he was charged with heroin possession and weapons charges. He is serving a two year prison sentence.

On the ballot will be Circuit Judge Stephen McGlynn, Republican, who was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to fill Cook's seat, and Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf, Democrat.

ICJL’s site will be updated almost daily as judicial candidates and sitting judges respond to the questionnaire, Murnane said. Evaluations and merited endorsements will be made by the organization in mid-September.

ICJL is a coalition of Illinois citizens, small and large businesses, associations, professional societies, not-for-profit organizations and local governments that have joined together to work for fairness in the Illinois civil justice system, according to the ICJL website.

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