Not all elected judges in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit with terms ending this December have taken the unusual step of resigning in advance so they could seek election to self-created vacancies in the upcoming election.
Circuit Judge Richard Brown, seeking a second six-year term to remain Randolph County resident judge, is running on a non-partisan retention ballot which will require 60 percent approval by voters in all five counties of the circuit: St. Clair, Monroe, Randolph, Perry and Washington.
Unlike his colleagues in St. Clair County who resigned in August 2015 effective 16 months later, Brown is following the retention path that for more than 40 years all elected Illinois judges (except one) have followed to keep their seats.
But a recent Illinois Supreme Court decision not to hear a constitutional challenge to the candidacies of circuit judges John Baricevic, Robert LeChien and Robert Haida, effectively allows their names to remain on the ballot.
The only other time in state history that a judge resigned in order to run for election occurred in 2006 when another judge from St. Clair County, Lloyd Cueto, did the very thing Baricevic, LeChien and Haida have attempted.
The three are running on the Democratic ticket and two of the three opted to run for vacancies other than their own.
Haida, without opposition, is running for the Baricevic vacancy and will be elected by voters in all five counties of the circuit. Had he stood for retention, he would have needed at least three-fifths voter approval.
A simple majority vote - 50 percent plus one - will determine the outcome for Baricevic and LeChien who face opposition from Republicans Ron Duebbert and Laninya Cason, respectively.
Baricevic and Duebbert, who are running for the Haida vacancy, will be on the ballot in all five counties of the circuit.
LeChien is running for his own vacancy. Had he chosen to run for retention, he would have needed 60 percent voter approval in all five counties of the circuit. Because he is seated to a St. Clair County resident judge position, an election race is limited to voters in that county.
Baricevic has said that the reason they are seeking election versus retention was in order to stand up to criticism regarding the drug addiction and arrest of former judge Michael Cook, the drug overdose death of judge Joe Christ and the drug dealing of former probation officer James Fogarty.
Brown said in a recent interview that he didn’t believe there was anything wrong with the actions taken by his fellow judges in seeking election.
“Obviously, the courts have ruled that it’s okay to run for retention or run for election,” Brown said.
As to why he did not opt for election, Brown said that people in Randolph County are essentially “removed” from news coverage of the courts in St. Clair County, and in particular the issues related to Cook’s drug use.
“I can’t say that drug use is a big issue,” Brown said. “I hate to say that it isn’t a big issue. I just don’t hear it discussed in Randolph County. I’m not sure how widely aware people are.”
Before he was appointed to fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Randolph County resident circuit judge William Schuwerk, Jr. in 2010 and then elected as a Democrat to the same position that year, Brown had served as an associate judge in the what are described as the “outer” counties of the circuit.
He said that in this first campaign for retention, he is “trying to stay out of politics.”
Brown has not done any fund-raising and said he does not intend to.
He said he runs an efficient court and that his experience helps ensure that cases progress through the system without delay.
Prior to becoming a judge, Brown was in private practice 27 years handling civil and criminal matters. He also held the part time position of public defender in Randolph County from 1978-1996.
Brown completed a survey conducted by the Illinois Civil Justice League. Following are questions and his unedited answers.
What actions have you taken as a judge of which you are most proud?
Brown: In my years as judge I have worked to stream line the orderly progression of cases through the Court both civil and criminal. I instituted case management conferences for parties in criminal cases at least every 30-45 days to determine if the case was moving without delay to trial. I instituted case management conferences and trial scheduling Orders for civil cases after the parties are given time to conduct discovery which helps insure that the attorneys know that the case is not on their time schedule but the Court’s. I instituted an installment payment of fines and costs. The defendant is periodically ordered to return to Court to review the outstanding balance owed with the judge. The defendant signs a “pay or appear” form with the date and time of his appointment with the judge acknowledging that he received a copy so that a defendant cannot blame the mail, his family or the court for lack of notice of the date he is to return to discuss payment of the amount he owes.
Name and describe one change you would make in the Illinois court system.
Brown: The Court lacks financial resources to provide intensive probation for offenders who have substance abuse and mental health issues and others who lack employment skills and knowledge of available employment opportunities. I would expand the budget for intensive probation. Statistical data shows that intensive probation for repeat offenders will reduce recidivism and prison populations.
One prominent Illinois judicial evaluation survey asks attorneys to evaluate candidates on integrity, impartiality, legal ability and temperament. Critique yourself in these four areas as to how you personally approach your job as a judge?
Brown: It is the duty of the judge presiding in the courtroom to be fair and impartial to all parties. I therefore make every effort to allow each side to present its case presenting all the evidence allowed within the rules of evidence. I believe the trier of fact is best served when as much relevant evidence as possible is given to make the decision. I base my decisions solely on the law and the facts presented in Court to support my ruling of the law. I believe the Circuit Court is a hallowed institution and insist that those persons appearing before the Court grant it proper decorum. I allow attorneys to cite cases to support their position and take the time to read and brief the cases, after argument, before issuing my rulings.