Voters in the five-county Twentieth Judicial Circuit have another judicial candidate scorecard to consider - one that runs counter to a poll released last week by the state bar organization.
The Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) says it is not recommending Judges John Baricevic, Robert LeChien and Robert Haida who seek election to their self-created vacancies, as they have "purposefully gamed the system."
The judges opted not to run for retention which requires 60 percent voter approval on a non-partisan ballot in the general election. Instead, the judges resigned their seats which they now seek election to on a partisan ballot - Democratic - that only requires a simple majority to win. Their candidacies are being challenged in court.
John Pastuovic, president of the ICJL, stated that the judges knew they faced an "uphill battle" in a retention race.
"Instead of running for retention, they subverted the process by turning in their resignations effective Dec. 4 and filed as candidates in the March 15 primary, where they would only need a simple majority to win,” stated Pastuovic in a press release issued today announcing results of its evaluation.
"While none of these three judges have primaries, it is critical that voters in St. Clair County are aware that with this maneuver, these judges ignored the intent and spirit of the Illinois Constitution and are deemed Not Recommended," he said. "Moreover, their behavior is just another example of why Illinois must reform its civil justice system."
The ICJL states that its review process for judges and judicial candidates running in the March 15 primary, is "the most complete and comprehensive voter education initiative of its kind, designed to assist voters in making informed decisions about the judicial candidates on their ballot."
The review included evaluating answers to questionnaires sent to candidates, as well as examining their judicial and career records, media accounts, bar ratings, campaign contributions, and other sources of information about each judge and judicial candidate to establish individual ratings.
None of the judicial candidates seeking seats at the Twentieth Judicial Circuit responded to the ICJL's questionnaire, Pastuovic said, including two Republican challengers to the seats being sought by Baricevic and LeChien.
If the court challenge to the candidacies of Baricevic, LeChien and Haida does not succeed in removing their names from the ballot, Ron Duebbert of Belleville will face Baricevic and Laninya Cason of East St. Louis will face LeChien in the general election.
Baricevic is running for the Haida vacancy, rather than his own, which is a circuit wide seat. The Twentieth Judicial Circuit includes St. Clair, Monroe, Perry, Randolph and Washington counties.
Lechien is seeking election to the seat he vacated - a resident circuit seat, which means only voters in St. Clair County will vote. Had LeChien run for retention, though, his name would have appeared on the general election ballot in all counties in the circuit.
The ICJL's review of candidates is an initiative it calls, "Judges: Good and Bad-You Can’t Afford to be Indifferent."
Its review stands in sharp contrast to the Illinois State Bar Association advisory poll released on Feb. 26, which recommends Baricevic, Haida and LeChien. The poll gave "not recommended" ratings for Duebbert and Cason.
The ISBA advisory poll is conducted by mail with ballots sent to all ISBA members in the circuit or district from which a candidate seeks election (except Cook County). Licensed attorneys who are not members of the ISBA, or any attorney outside the circuit or district, may request a ballot. Attorneys are asked to respond only if they have sufficient knowledge about the candidate’s qualifications for judicial office to give a fair, informed opinion.
Critics of the ISBA judicial evaluation process have said it favors Democrat candidates.
Madison County Circuit Judge John Barberis, a candidate for the Fifth District Appellate Court who was rated "not qualified" by a panel of ISBA members, said the review process is a "tool the Democratic party uses to undermine respect for Republican candidates."
In its release, the ICJL’s ratings focused primarily on judges and judicial candidates for Cook County circuits and subcircuits.
Pastuovic said party affiliation had nothing to do with its evaluations. All of the candidates and judges it endorsed in its press release are Democrats.
He said they were "quality candidates with really good records."
For Cook County Circuit Judge
Biebel Vacancy: Fitzgerald Lyke (D) – Recommended
Elrod Vacancy: Rossana Patricia Fernandez (D) – Highly Recommended
Hogan Vacancy: Alison Conlon (D) – Highly Recommended
Johnson Vacancy: Carolyn Gallagher (D) – Highly Recommended
Karnezis Vacancy: Devlin Schoop (D) – Highly Recommended
O’Brien Vacancy: Maureen O’Donoghue Hannon (D) – Recommended
Palmer Vacancy: Pat Heneghan (D) – Recommended
Ruscitti Grussel Vacancy: Daniel Patrick Duffy (D) – Highly Recommended
Walsh Vacancy: Frederick Bates (D) – Recommended
Walsh Vacancy: Patrick Powers (D) – Recommended
For Cook County Subcircuit Judge
Brim Vacancy – 1st Subcircuit: Maryam Ahmad (D) – Recommended
Savage Vacancy – 2nd Subcircuit: Chelsey Robinson (D) – Recommended
Eadie-Daniels Vacancy – 5th Subcircuit: Leonard Murray (D) – Recommended
Santiago Vacancy – 6th Subcircuit: Richard Cooke (D) – No Position
Rivkin-Carothers Vacancy – 7th Subcircuit: Rose Silva (D) – Recommended
Rivkin-Carothers Vacancy – 7th Subcircuit: Mable Taylor (D) – Recommended
Howard Vacancy – 10th Subcircuit: Colleen Reardon Daly (D) – Recommended
Howard Vacancy – 10th Subcircuit: Rick Cenar (D) – Highly Recommended
Kazmierski Vacancy – 12th Subcircuit: Louis Apostol (D) – Recommended
For Downstate Circuit Judge
14th Circuit (Rock Island County): Kathleen Mesich (D) – Recommended
20th Circuit (Circuitwide): John Baricevic (D) – Not Recommended
20th Circuit (Circuitwide): Robert Haida (D) – Not Recommended
20th Circuit (St. Clair County): Robert LeChien (D) – Not Recommended