Contested elections for circuit judge in the Third Judicial Circuit have occurred less often than vacancies have come about in recent years.
But this election cycle, voters in Madison and Bond counties will have a choice when they vote on a replacement for former chief judge Ann Callis, who resigned last year to run for Congress – either Madison County Associate Judge Clarence Harrison or St. Jacob attorney John Barberis.
In an effort to help voters make informed decisions, the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) reached out to all judicial candidates in the state, as well as those running for retention, with a questionnaire seeking perspective on a variety of topics, including civil justice reforms.
Harrison, a Democrat, did not respond to the ICJL survey, however, he has agreed to be interviewed by the Record. The results of that conversation will be published next week.
Barberis, a Republican, responded as follows. His answers appear unedited.
ICJL: State the qualifications and experiences that make you qualified to serve on the bench in Illinois.
Barberis: I am qualified to serve as a judge in Illinois due to the fact that I have been a practicing attorney for nearly 18 years and in that time I have practiced in many areas of the law including family, business formations and business law in general, personal injury, constitutional law, title work and real estate, traffic and criminal defense, probate law, and class action work. I was a part-time Assistant State’s Attorney for Madison County for 15 years, during which time I handled everything including child support enforcement, traffic and misdemeanor prosecution, and mental health cases. I have served as City Attorney for Collinsville, Illinois, as Corporate Attorney for Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville and Zoning Officer for the Village of St. Jacob, Illinois.
ICJL: One prominent Illinois judicial evaluation survey asks attorneys to evaluate candidates on Integrity, Impartiality, Legal Ability and Temperament. Critique yourself in these four areas as to how they make you qualified to serve on the bench.
Barberis: (I would start by saying that the “One prominent Illinois judicial evaluation survey “ mentioned in this question (the ISBA judicial candidate survey) has been used as a partisan smear tactic in Madison County on more than a few occasions. In my survey results it states that 92 attorneys responded. I assure you that more than half those 92 wouldn’t know me if I were standing in front of them. I believe they are from politically active firms who actively seek to skew the results for their own political parties needs. These same lawyers and law firms, I believe, have contributed over $100,000 to my opponent to date. I won’t knowingly accept money from lawyers or law firms as a matter of principle.)
I consider integrity, the quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles or professional standards, to be one of the foremost qualities a judge must possess. In that regard, I believe that I am very well qualified as I have always held myself to very high moral and professional principals. Anyone who knows me knows that my integrity is unquestionable.
As for impartiality, I have never played favorites in any aspect of my career. One of the main reasons that I decided to run for circuit judge is to restore the public’s faith in a fair and impartial bench here in Madison County in light of some of the recent scandals involving favoritism to certain political parties and individuals.
My successful career over the past 18 years is testament to my legal ability. I have never been reprimanded by any Bar Association or disciplinary committee.
As an assistant state’s attorney and a family law practitioner, I have demonstrated the ability to keep a cool and even temperament while dealing at times with irate and difficult people.
ICJL: Describe the case in which you are most proud of your work as a lawyer.
Barberis: While many cases come to mind, including cases involving helping parents and children to deal with horrific or abusive family matters to business cases involving fraudulent transactions that harmed small business owners, one case comes to mind as the one in which I am most proud. That case is a class action case that I recently filed on behalf of nearly 10,000 victims of conspiracy and fraud perpetrated on them by certain Madison County elected officials and certain tax buyers. While the case is still ongoing at this time, it seeks recovery of several millions of dollars defrauded from the victims by the defendants.
ICJL: Name one change you would make in the Illinois court system.
Barberis: The one change that I would like to make in the Illinois court system would be one to help expedite cases so that individuals can get through the onerous matter of dealing with a lawsuit and get on with their lives.
ICJL: Are there civil litigation reforms that you would like to see enacted to remedy particular problems that you have detected, either as a practicing lawyer or as a sitting judge? Are there reforms that would benefit the civil justice system? What needs to be changed? Should the enactment of any such changes be the province of the legislature, the Supreme Court or by Constitutional amendment?
Barberis: I would support legislative action that would increase penalties to further deter frivolous lawsuits. I believe that such changes would benefit the civil justice system in Illinois by unclogging our overburdened system so that cases with merit could be handled quicker than they are now. These types of changes would be the province of the legislature.
ICJL: Do you believe that our judicial system adequately deters and penalizes frivolous litigation? If not, what reforms would you like to see?
Barberis: Based on the number of meritless lawsuits still being filed in Illinois and the very rare instances of plaintiffs, their attorneys and law firms being sanctioned for doing so, it is clear that the existing laws are inadequate to stop such behavior. I believe that stronger sanctions and codifying the judicial actions to be taken in the case of frivolous lawsuits would be helpful in reducing the frequency of meritless, frivolous lawsuits.
ICJL: Do you believe the Illinois Constitution precludes legislative establishment of limitations on civil damages? Are there or should there be distinctions among economic, non-economic and punitive damages?
Barberis: It is my belief that the Illinois Constitution, at this time, does preclude legislative establishment of limitations on civil damages. Until such time as a constitutional amendment is enacted, the issue of runaway juries will remain a concern in all civil cases with only the Judges power of remittitur to reign in excessive awards. I further believe that there are distinctions among economic, non-economic and punitive damages.