In less than one month, the Illinois primary election will determine whose campaigns will carry on to the all-important November 2010 general election in a slew of statewide and local races.
But judicial candidates in Madison and St. Clair counties run unopposed on Feb. 2, and without any competition they are guaranteed victory 11 months from now.
In Madison County, State's Attorney Bill Mudge, a Democrat, is expected to succeed Circuit Judge Daniel Stack who is retiring.
Mudge, a lawyer for more than 20 years, said in a candidate questionnaire supplied by the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) that he believes our judicial system adequately deters and penalizes frivolous litigation by requiring attorneys to file pleadings that are "well grounded in fact..."
"Sufficient sanctions for those who violate this requirement are also provided within the Rules," Mudge said. "The adequacy of deterrence and penalty depends upon a judge's willingness to enforce these rules when called upon to do so."
Mudge punted on a question related to caps on damages. The ICJL questionnaire asks, "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?"
He answered, "I believe the Code of Judicial Conduct precludes me from answering this question as the issue is currently pending before the Illinois Supreme Court, which provides that judges and judicial candidates 'abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court.'"
The Illinois Supreme Court is expected to release its opinion soon regarding the constitutionality of the state's 2005 "caps" law.
In answer to what civil litigation reforms he would like to see enacted, Mudge said that "it is easy to imply that the system is broken."
"Our juries are intelligent, and take their responsibility seriously," he said. "Most nations do not have a system where their grievances may be submitted to a jury of their peers. While we should always strive for improvement, we should be mindful that we have a lot to be proud of. If we elect and appoint ethical, impartial, competent and hard working men and women to the bench, everyone will have a fair opportunity to be heard and justice will be served."
When asked to describe a case he was most proud of in his work as a lawyer, Mudge mentioned one involving a client who broke her tooth on a pecan shell that was embedded in chocolate.
"In Jackson v. Nestle-Beich I had the opportunity to obtain a reversal of a trial court decision in the appellate court, and then I successfully argued the case before the Illinois Supreme Court. The decision changed outdated product liability law in the State of Illinois consistent with the advancements in product production."
In St. Clair County, State's Attorney Robert Haida, a Democrat, seeks to replace Circuit Judge Patrick Young, who is retiring. And, St. Clair County Associate Judge Michael Cook, a Democrat, seeks to replace Circuit Judge Annette Eckert, who also is retiring.
Haida and Cook have not responded to the ICJL survey.
The ICJL is tracking judicial races statewide. Candidate questionnaires can be viewed at illinoisjudges.net.