Illinois Civil Justice League President John Pastuovic believes the three St. Clair County judges who are seeking election over retention are "clearly violating" the intent of state law.
In defending their access to the March 15 primary election, Twentieth Judicial Circuit Judges John Baricevic, Robert LeChien and Robert Haida say the constitution lays out two paths for judges, election and retention, and that they are opting for re-election.
The judges are fighting a suit brought by Belleville city clerk Dallas Cook in Sangamon County Circuit Court. Cook, a Republican, contends that the state constitution clearly establishes that judges must retain office through a retention vote, which requires 60 percent voter approval.
Instead of running on a separate retention ballot, the judges seek to run for election which only requires a simple majority to win. They filed nomination paperwork to run as Democrats in the March 15 primary, to which Cook objected.
Sangamon County Associate Judge Esteban Sanchez heard arguments on Friday, indicating he would issue a ruling this week.
“They’ve made the decision that it is potentially easier for them to win an election rather than winning retention,” Pastuovic said.
“I don’t think it’s what the authors of the Illinois State Constitution intended. I think they are clearly violating the intent of the law.”
State Representative Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) appears to agree. He proposed bill HB4673 which would establish retention as the only option for sitting judges to seek a successive term. Exceptions would be allowed for judges seeking to serve in a higher or lower court and for judges who have not served as an elected or appointed judge within the last two years.
Regardless of how the case brought by Cook plays out in Esteban's court, if Meier’s bill is passed, it will prevent Illinois judges in the future from implementing the strategy advanced by Baricevic, LeChien and Haida..
If the judges are allowed to remain on the ballot, the contests would be shaped as follows in the general elections: Haida would run unopposed for the vacancy created by Baricevic’s resignation. Republican Ron Duebbert of Belleville is running to fill Haida’s former position and would face Baricevic. Republican Laninya Cason is running for the vacancy created by LeChien, and would face LeChien.