ICJL: Fewer local judicial races expected in 2014 election

By Bethany Krajelis | Aug 8, 2013

With only about a handful of local judicial races expected to be on the ballots next year, voters in the Fifth District will likely experience a much quieter election cycle than last year.

Among several other judicial elections, voters in 2012 watched candidates battle it out for a seat on the Fifth District Appellate Court and were urged by a local group to vote against the retention of four sitting judges on the Madison County bench.

The appellate court race between Judy Cates, who won, and Stephen McGlynn, who has since been appointed a St. Clair County circuit judge, garnered hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations, as well as complaints from both candidates over alleged ethics and contribution disclosure violations.

The 2012 retention races of four Madison County judges -- Ann Callis, who has since resigned to run for Congress, Dave Hylla, John Knight and Barbara Crowder – also received quite a bit of attention as a local group called Citizens for Judicial Integrity levied an unsuccessful campaign against their retention.

Although candidates have yet to file paperwork for the 2014 election, there will be definitely be fewer judicial races on the local ballots next year, which will likely be dominated by a fight for the governor’s office, compared to 2012.

Established party candidates seeking to run in next year’s election have to file their nominating petitions between Sept. 25 and Dec. 2, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections’ 2014 election calendar, which notes that candidates can start circulating their petitions early next month.

Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL), said on a statewide level, there is one Illinois Supreme Court seat up in next year’s election, as well as 15 appellate court seats and 205 circuit court seats, of which 110 are based in Cook County.

The ICJL monitors judicial elections throughout the state and sends out questionnaires to candidates. In the past, the group has endorsed candidates, such as McGlynn in last year’s race for the Fifth District, and has worked to unseat others, such as Chief Justice Tom Kilbride in his successful 2010 retention bid.

In November, Murnane said, area voters will see a ballot that includes one seat each for the Illinois Supreme Court and the Fifth District Appellate Court. Voters in the Third and Twentieth judicial circuits will also have two circuit court seats to deal with on each of their ballots.

Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier is up for retention in 2014, but he has yet to publicly announce whether he plans to run. He beat out Gordon Maag for the court’s Fifth District seat in 2004 and would need to receive 60 percent of the vote in November to be retained for another 10-year term.

As for the Fifth District Appellate Court, Murnane said Justice Stephen Spomer’s seat is up. Spomer has served on the appellate court since 2005, when the state high court assigned him to the position.

While he doesn’t expect Karmeier of Spomer to have a problem keeping the seats they currently  hold, Murnane said that could change if they are challenged by opponents or if either justice decides not to run next year.

If Karmeier or Spomer choose not to run, Murnane said, their seats would open up to a full-on election that would more than likely garner a lot of attention and interest.

As for circuit court judgeships up in the 2014 election, Murnane said there will be two in the Third Judicial Circuit – the seat held by Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth and the one formerly held Judge Ann Callis– and two in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit for the seats currently held by Judges James Campanella and Dennis Doyle.

Madison County Associate Judge Clarence Harrison announced earlier this week that he plans to run for Callis’ seat. Judge James Hackett was appointed earlier this summer to fill the vacancy left by Callis, but has not yet publicly announced whether he plans to seek election to the seat for a six-year term.

It is also unclear at this time whether Campanella, who is based in Washington County, or Doyle, who sits in Monroe County, intend to run in the 2014 election or if anyone else plans to run for those circuit court judgeships.

­Murnane said the drug scandal unfolding in St. Clair County, which is part of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, may make voters there pay more attention to the upcoming judicial elections.

Former St. Clair County Judge Michael Cook stepped down from the bench in May shortly after being hit with drug and weapon charges. He has pleaded not guilty and is in drug treatment.

Murnane said that “soap opera” of a scandal puts a spotlight on the need to change the way Illinois selects its judges.

Acknowledging that such a change would take some time, Murnane said he hopes the situation at least makes voters pay more attention to the election process and reignite the discussion over judicial selection.

Murnane also said the ICJL plans to be “much more aggressive” in the upcoming election by providing a weekly update on judicial election news and by publicizing when candidates refuse to answer its questionnaires.

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