Elections tame judicial egos

By The Madison County Record | Jul 30, 2006

Judicial elections are important, if only because they make change possible.

It doesn't have to happen. It rarely if ever does. But the mere threat of a sitting judge getting voted off the bench is enough to force better behavior.

Thanks to the 2004 miracle of Gordon Maag, now even in the Metro-East, finally, judges have gotten the message. They, too, will need to explain themselves to voters-- just like everyone else in public life.

Anyone who doubts this is a very good thing hasn't paid much attention to Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis, hustling this summer to present progress to the electorate before it judges her this November. In her short tenure, Callis has already made several decisions that will impact our infamous court for the better. She wants to keep her job.

It wasn't always this way. Drunk on a cocktail of voter ambivalence, topped with a splash of incumbency and a trial lawyer cash garnish, Madison County's judges plainly didn't mind being infamous. With stern glares and arms folded, they'd thumb their noses at critics. No-- it's you that is wrong, they'd say. Not us. Never us. We're wearing the robes around here.

Our judges were arrogant because they thought they would never lose. Such responsive behavior as Ms. Callis', B.M. (Before Maag), was unimaginable. One election changed everything.

There's talk that a constitutional convention is on the horizon, at which Illinois' system of electing judges could be replaced. Alternatives would include letting a governor appoint them, or creating a brand new "non partisan" state commission to do the job. It would, according to plan, choose the "best" nominees for us.

In our opinion, either/or would be a mistake.

We don't deny that our political process can be messy and expensive. It doesn't always give us ideal results in the short run. But state government is here for the long haul, and there isn't a better means of holding public officals accountable than slapping their names on a ballot.

Rather than build a buffer between Illinois judges and the people, what we really need is a dose of patience. Eventually, even courts can aim to please. If it happened here, it can happen anywhere.

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