SPRINGFIELD – Any Illinois judge would copy St. Clair County
judges choosing election over retention if courts allow the choice, lawyer
Aaron Weishaar of St. Louis argued at the Fourth District appellate court on
“Who wouldn’t?” Weishaar said. “Judges up and down the state
are running for retention right now.
Mary Thurman (seated) and Barb Viviano
“That could drastically change if we allow these judges to
choose between retention and election.”
Weishaar represents Belleville city clerk Dallas Cook, who
objects to the ballot status of Chief Judge John Baricevic and circuit judges
Robert Haida and Robert LeChien.
Cook claims the state Constitution provides partisan
election for a judge’s first term and non partisan retention requiring 60 percent
approval for further terms.
Baricevic, Haida and LeChien announced their resignations
last year, effective this December, and declared they would run in the Democrat
primary this March.
No judge exercised the option until 2006, when St. Clair County
circuit judge Lloyd Cueto resigned, won the primary election, and won the
general election. He resigned for the final time after that term expired in
No judge exercised the option again until Baricevic, Haida
and LeChien did.
Cook filed objections at the state election board, where
hearing examiner David Herman of Springfield recommended denial of the
At a board meeting in January, four Democrats voted in favor
of the judges and four Republicans voted in favor of Cook.
The tie counted as victory for Baricevic, Haida and LeChien,
because the board could not reject Herman’s recommendation without a majority.
Cook appealed to Sangamon County circuit court, where
associate judge Esteban Sanchez affirmed Herman’s recommendation in February.
Cook appealed to Fourth District judges, who expedited the
Baricevic, Haida and LeChien remained on the primary ballot
To hear oral argument at the Fourth District, the court
assigned Justices Thomas Harris, John Turner and Lisa Holder Wise.
Weishaar told them the constitutional convention of 1970
adopted retention to strengthen the judiciary.
Some delegates wanted more than 60 percent for retention, he
said. Delegates argued that partisanship in judicial elections creates a
For Baricevic, Haida and LeChien, Michael Kasper of Chicago
said the Constitution allows a “person eligible” to run for judge.
Kasper said the Constitution defines a person eligible as a
citizen of the United States and a resident of Illinois, with a law license.
“There is no dispute,” Kasper said. “They meet these
He said they had a constitutional right to the primary
ballot, and compared the choice between retention and election to a child’s
choice between an apple for going to school and a cookie for doing well on a
“You may have the apple or you may have the cookie,” he
“Judges are politicians under our Constitution.”
Appointed circuit judges run for circuit judge all the time,
he said, and his client judges have given voters more democracy, not less.
“The voters get more choices,” he said. “They get two whacks
at the candidate rather than one.”
He said it was the first time this came up in 45 years.
On rebuttal, Weishaar said, “It hasn’t come up in 45 years
but it’s bound to happen now. It’s happened three times in this situation.”
“Just because judge Cueto did it doesn’t make it right,” he
On Monday, the St. Clair County Republican women’s
organization presented a $5,000 donation for legal fees incurred by Cook.
Cook said that before Tuesday’s
hearing in Springfield his legal bill stood at $65,000.
“I’m a man of meager means,” he said.
While the legal battle has been a financial strain, he said
he was “proud” to “take the risk for people to be represented.”
“Somebody needed to do it,” he said.
The group Citizens for Honest Judges, which partnered with
the county Republican women’s organization in raising funds for Cook, staged a check presentation outside the courthouse on Monday.
Mary Thurman, director of the citizens group,
said the judges have “taken advantage of voter innocence.”
In a press release, she further stated that if
Cook’s challenge had not been made, “these judges would have got away with
trying to make new laws to benefit themselves. They are all three lawyers and, of all people,
they knew how much a lawsuit would cost to stop them. The Women’s Club has
really made a difference because they believe it is a just cause.”
Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse
Watch, said the outcome of the case against the judges’ ballot access
will have far-reaching impact.
He said the idea the idea of judges resigning their own
positions to run for election rather than retention is ‘outrageous.”
“Judges should be held to a higher standard of ethics and
fairness, but these three judges think they can circumvent election law and
common sense standards to keep their jobs,” he stated.
Ann Maher contributed to this report.