Moral character needs to be a primary consideration in the selection of jurists – and not only jurists, but all public figures, all persons in positions of authority, and all persons who might possibly be construed as role models.
We can find no reason to support some artificial Jekyll-and-Hyde dichotomy between public and private lives, as though someone can be a nine-to-five saint and an after-hours demon without either realm intruding upon the other.
Morality does matter. A person of bad character is unfit to serve as an object of admiration or imitation and should be considered ineligible for any position of public trust.
If we had truly exercised our duties as citizens and chosen wisely – with the help of a genuine watchdog press and civic leaders uncompromised by conflicts of interest – we might not be dealing now with the continuing repercussions of Michael Cook's conviction.
The St. Clair County judge was arrested by drug agents last year, pled guilty to heroin possession, and received a sentence of two years in prison. He got off easy, to say the least, as he was implicated in the drug-overdose death of fellow jurist Joe Christ.
We'll be cleaning up the mess Cook left behind for years to come.
Fifth District appellate judges have reversed Cook three times in the four months since his sentencing – twice for failing to give proper consideration to motions from prisoners claiming ineffective assistance of counsel.
How many of Cook's decisions will have to be reconsidered and possibly reversed? How many defendants have been denied justice because of his character flaws?
Cook's private vices are causing a high public cost.
That's something to keep in mind the next time we elect a judge.