In its effort to inform voters about judicial elections throughout the state, the Illinois Civil Justice League asked each candidate to respond to its survey.
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who seeks to be retained by voters in the state's 37 southern-most counties, responded to the ICJL questionnaire and received a "highly recommended" rating from the group.
Here are Karmeier's unedited answers to the ICJL questionnaire:
ICJL: State the main reason why voters should return you to the bench.
Karmeier: I bring to the office 50 years of legal experience and nearly a decade of demonstrated ability to carry out the duties of Justice of the Supreme Court with integrity, diligence and fidelity to the rule of law. I believe I have been a dedicated and effective member of a Court noted for its collegiality, its ability to manage the Judicial Branch efficiently during periods of economic distress, and its commitment to improving the legal profession and insuring that justice is accessible to all. My health is good.
My enthusiasm for the job is undiminished. I consider it a privilege to have served the people of Illinois as a Justice of the Supreme Court. I sincerely hope that my dedication to the office over the past decade has earned the trust and confidence of the voters of in the Fifth District. If retained, I will continue to do my best to insure that all who come before the court are given a fair and impartial hearing and that the judgments we render are free from improper influence and are based, instead, solely on the law and the evidence.
ICJL: What actions have you taken as a judge of which you are most proud?
Karmeier: I have been a judge now for 28 years, first as a trial judge and for the past 10 years as a Justice of the Supreme Court. During that time, I have never had any goal, purpose or agenda except to carry out my oath of office to the best of my abilities. I take great pride in the everyday work of the Court: deciding the cases that come before us fairly and promptly. I take the greatest pride in deciding cases where some profound wrong has been done, our Court is the only authority left with the power to make it right, and through reason and deliberation, we succeed in doing justice.
ICJL: Name and describe one change you would make in the Illinois court system.
Karmeier: I would change the way judges are selected. In place of the the current system of contested, partisan elections, Illinois should adopt some form of merit selection. Some proposals have called for judges to be appointed by the governor or nominated by the governor and then confirmed by the legislature. I do not believe that would work in Illinois. Because of the State’s history of political corruption and to insure that new judges are free from partisan influence, the Governor and General Assembly should be kept out of the process. Rather, I would propose that new judges be selected by an independent commission free of political influence.
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 you personally approach your job as a judge.
Karmeier: There is an inscription above the doorway opposite the bench where the Supreme Court sits in Springfield. It reads audi alteram partem. That is Latin for “hear the other side.” It was put there as a reminder to the members of the court, as we consider each case, to refrain from judgment until all sides have had their say. I have always taken that admonition seriously. In my personal life as well as in my capacity as a judge, I do my best to consider all views before reaching a decision.
The willingness to keep an open mind relates to legal ability as well. The law is complicated and ever changing. Although I do my best to keep current, the volume and range of issues that come before us are beyond the expertise of any one person. As a result, I have learned to listen carefully to the views of my colleagues and to draw on the experiences and abilities of my staff. In this job, collaboration and the exchange of ideas are cornerstones to understanding and essential to effective decision making.
As for integrity and temperament, my views are perhaps best expressed in the remarks I deliver to new lawyers at the swearing-in ceremonies held by the Supreme Court each fall and spring.
After administering the oath, I leave them with these thoughts, which I will now share with you:
“The license to practice law includes a charge to obey the highest standards of conduct on behalf of your clients in the interest of justice. Sometimes this may not be an easy charge to accept. When you are battling in court, the stakes can be high: a human life, a family’s fortune, the future of a business on whose survival the welfare of an entire community may depend. The stress of the conflict may and will tempt you to behavior you would never exhibit elsewhere. While such conduct may help win a case in the short run, the long run consequences are detrimental to you, your future clients and the profession as a whole. Remember: you will not practice in a vacuum. The lawyers and judges you face today you will surely face again in the future. Over time, they will know if you are honest, they will know if they can depend on your word, they will know if you are someone with with whom negotiations can be conducted."
Back in 1964 when I entered the practice of law, there was not as much talk about "professionalism” or “ethics." There were no bar approved professionalism or mentoring programs. But I had great mentors in Justice Byron House of the Illinois Supreme Court, for whom I clerked, and in the lawyers with whom I practiced for 22 years before becoming a judge. Their advice to me, which advice they lived, was simple: (1) your word is your bond and (2) treat others as you would like to be treated. Your reputation and your future as a lawyer depend upon it.”
The Illinois State Bar Association also reviews candidates seeking election or retention to the appellate or supreme court in what the organization calls a comprehensive evaluation process.
For office holders seeking retention, as Karmeier is, judges are either recommended or not recommended following an evaluation that involves a background investigation by members of the ISBA Judicial Evaluations Committee, followed by an in-person interview.
The ISBA committee has recommended Karmeier be retained:
"Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier was elected to the Circuit Court in 1986 and served as a Trial Judge in Washington County and other Southern Illinois counties until 2004, when he was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court," the evaluation states. "Justice Karmeier is considered very respectful of people, hardworking, well-prepared, thoughtful, and scholarly in his written opinions. He regularly participates in civic activities and is a frequent speaker at community groups and professional programs. Based on an investigation into his background and references, a review of materials provided, and a full interview, The ISBA Committee for Judicial Evaluations Outside of Cook County recommends 'yes' for Justice Karmeier’s retention."