St. Clair County judges commit fraud on the public by running for election rather than retention, radio voice Bob Romanik alleges in complaints to the state Judicial Inquiry Board.
On Dec. 21, Romanik provided to the Record copies of complaints against chief judge John Baricevic and circuit judges Robert Haida and Robert LeChien.
The inquiry board wouldn’t confirm or deny that it received complaints.
Romanik’s copies show the board’s letterhead and instructions, with blanks that he filled in below and a signature on Dec. 17.
On a line for the kind of case, he wrote, “violating integrity; fraud on public.”
On a line for other witnesses, he wrote, “The entire community in the 20th Judicial Circuit.”
Romanik wrote that on Aug. 26, the judges announced their retirements effective in December 2016.
He wrote that on Nov. 23, Baricevic filed nominating petitions for Haida’s position, Haida filed for Baricevic’s position, and LeChien filed for his own vacancy. The judges seek nomination to the Democratic ticket.
He wrote that Article 6 of the Illinois Constitution provides that a judge is elected in a partisan contest only the first time he is elected.
“Thereafter, after he has been a judge for the six year term, he must run for retention pursuant to Article 6,” he wrote.
He wrote that the judges violated the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct.
“Judge Baricevic threatens the integrity of the entire judiciary when he lies to the Supreme Court and lies to the public about his retirement,” he wrote.
Romanik made the same statement about Haida and LeChien.
He wrote that they knew they wouldn’t get 60 percent for retention.
Article 6 of the state consitution was attached to Romanik's complaints.
“The names of judges seeking retention shall be submitted to the electors, separately and without party designation, on the sole question whether each judge shall be retained in office for another term,” states a portion of Article 6, Section 12(d).
To succeed in a retention vote, a judge must receive an affirmative vote of three fifths of the elctorate to earn another term.
Romanik also attached a statement of additional violations, asking why no Democrat filed for the three vacancies. He answered his own question.
“Because everyone, including the lawyers, knew that the judges and judge Baricevic were lying to them about retiring, and that if they tried to run for one of the judicial vacancies, they would be crucified by the powerful Democrat judges,” he wrote.
He wrote that the judges made fun of the Constitution when they ignored its plain words.
He called for immediate and thorough investigation, and for permanent removal from their positions.
Belleville city clerk Dallas Cook earlier this month filed objections against Baricevic, Haida and LeChien on similar grounds at the Illinois Board of Elections.
A preliminary hearing on those objections is scheduled at 10 a.m. today before an electoral board in Chicago.
Baricevic, LeChien and Haida are represented by attorney Michael Kasper of Chicago; Cook is represented by attorney Aaron Weishaar of St. Louis.
Arguments are centered on Article 6 Section 12(d) of the state constitution, which spells out how and when judges seeking successive terms should file notice with the state on their intentions to do so.
Section 12(d) begins, “Not less than six months before the general election preceding the expiration of his term of office, a Supreme, Appellate or Circuit Judge who has been elected to that office may file in the office of the Secretary of State a declaration of candidacy to succeed himself."
Kasper focuses on the use of the term "may,” saying the word connotes permissiveness and denotes discretion.
He argues that if Cook's position were correct, the statute would have to state "may only" file.
Kasper cites case law in Maddux v. Blagojevich in which the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the Judicial Retirement Act, which had precluded a sitting judge from seeking retention if he or she were older than 75, but not a person older than 75 who was never a judge.
"Here, there is likewise no rational basis for concluding that the Constitution would prevent former judges from running in an election, while allowing citizens who were never judges to run in the same election," Kasper wrote.
Weishaar argues in a brief opposing Kasper's motions to dismiss that sitting judges who want to keep their jobs must run on their records in non-partisan elections. Once on the bench, judges should not engage in political activities or be subject to political pressures, Weishaar wrote.
"Nothing from a clear reading of Article VI, Section 12 states, much less indicates by any stretch of the imagination that a sitting judge is somehow permitted, while still on the bench, to file for resignation effective at the end of the current term and at the same time inject onself back into partisan politics by seeking nomation for re-election on the ticket of his political party and then run a campaign for the same judicial circuit where he is still sitting on the bench," Weishaar wrote.
He argues that Kasper's citation of Maddux is flawed because the court in that case ruled that the Judicial Retirement Act created an "irrational classification that could not withstand scrutiny in terms of equal protection."
Weishaar states that in Maddux, the Supreme Court took note of the lower court's dissent in reaching its decision.
"..[W]hile there may arguably be a difference between seeking election and seeking retention, holding that a [sitting] judge beyond retirement age may seek election but not retention brought about absurd result," Weishaar quoted former Appellate Justice Mel Jiganti.
Cook's challenges to the judges seek to have their names stricken from the primary election, set March 15.
He currently serves as Belleville city clerk, but also will be running as the Republican candidate for St. Clair County circuit clerk in a challenge to incumbent Kahala Clay, a Democrat.
Romanik is running for state representative as a Republican in the 114th District through a vacancy being created by Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson (D-East St. Louis). Romanik will face Democrat LaToya Greenwood in the general election in November.
Romanik and Cook belong to a group calling itself the Freedom Coalition, a mixture of Democrats and Republicans who favor fast changes in local government.