The role of the judiciary in our society is seldom the subject of water cooler discussions but thanks to the historic ruling on the Affordable Healthcare Act, the judicial branch of government is now front and center in the minds of millions across the country.

Some hail the decision as brilliant while others question the rationale of the decision and wonder what the future implications of the ruling will be. Both sides can agree though that with a razor thin 5-4 decision, the importance of good judges cannot be underestimated.

The temperament and the mindset of the people serving in the judiciary do make a difference. One of the issues in any presidential election is the kind of judges the various candidates running for office will appoint. But beyond the high stakes of a presidential election, voters here in Illinois have the ability to cast their vote directly for judicial candidates.

Judges wield extraordinary and largely unchallenged power. Good judges strive to wield this power wisely, which is why we as citizens need to pay attention to the individuals seeking a judicial position. Judicial races appear at the bottom of the ballot but as the recent ruling on healthcare illustrates – the power of the judiciary is far reaching and we owe it ourselves to take these races seriously.

One of the most significant races in Southern Illinois and the Metro-East is the Fifth District Appellate Court race. Like most big time races, it is important for voters to "follow the money." One candidate, the former head of the Illinois Trial Lawyer Association Judy Cates, is taking in big dollars from fellow personal injury lawyers.

In the last quarter, Cates reported nearly $64,000 in itemized contributions. Most of her money is coming from Chicago-based trial lawyers, but she also received a whopping $10,000 contribution from a personal injury lawyer firm from California, which makes one wonder why a California law firm would care about a judicial race in the Southern Illinois/Metro-East region.

The reality is personal injury law firms in Chicago and California have a vested interest in what happens in our Metro-East counties because they flock to these counties to file their junk lawsuits.

Madison and St. Clair Counties are collectively ranked the fifth-worst "Judicial Hellholes" in the country and having a fellow personal injury lawyer sitting on the Fifth District Appellate Court would help preserve the status quo.

Already tens of thousands of dollars from personal injury law firms are pouring into Judy Cates' campaign coffers. She has every right to collect these contribution but voters also have the right to see for themselves who is funding these campaigns.

There is much at stake in these judicial elections and voters should ask the candidates in the Fifth District Appellate race if they're satisfied with the status quo or if they will work to bring much needed lawsuit reforms to Metro-East courts.

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