Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, September 20, 2019

Complaint to judicial board says chief judge damaged court's integrity

By Taryn Phaneuf | Nov 7, 2016

BELLEVILLE — Acting as a concerned voter, a St. Clair County GOP official has filed a complaint against a judge seeking election, saying he’s violated rules geared toward preserving public trust in the judicial system.

Mary Thurman, who is the secretary for the county’s Republican Party and a social worker, filed the complaint against Twentieth Circuit Chief Judge John Baricevic, citing his choice to run for election instead of retention to maintain his seat on the court. The complaint states that Thurman believes Baricevic has “damaged” the integrity of the court system.

Thurman also works with Citizens for Honest Judges — a nonpartisan group focused on judicial elections. She told the Record that she filed the complaint Nov. 4, just days before the Nov. 8 general elections.

Baricevic and two other circuit court judges have been targets of much criticism after they resigned from their posts, effective December 2016, and then sought election to fill their own vacant seats. Typically, a judge seeking another term runs in a nonpartisan race for retention, requiring 60 percent of voter approval compared to an election’s 50 percent.

“Judge Baricevic’s decision not to run for retention but to run as a new candidate for his same position has created major distrust of the judiciary in the voting public,” she wrote in the complaint, which she filed as a voter without input from the St. Clair County GOP.

Opponents attempted to take the matter to the State Board of Elections and the courts to have the judges removed from the ballots, but efforts failed. The judges argued that the state constitution gives judges the option to seek retention or election. Baricevic has said he opted for election because he wanted the chance to talk about important issues in the county, including a drug scandal that was uncovered after one judge died from a cocaine overdose and another was arrested for heroin possession and gun charges. In a non-partisan race, he wouldn’t be able to talk about those kinds of issues, he has said.

In January, the elections board said the judges can quit and run again. A Sangamon County court and the Fourth District Appellate Court also sided with the judges. The Illinois Supreme Court declined to take up the case on appeal.

But running as a new candidate to talk about the issues is a “farce,” Thurman said.

“It was just an excuse he made up. He didn't talk about it,” she said.

The complaint points to letters Baricevic wrote to his opponent aimed at keeping the drug scandal out of the campaign. Instead, he’s been able to avoid running on his record as a judge in a way he wouldn’t have been able to if he’d sought retention, she said. She specifically cites his role as chief judge during the scandal when two judges were drug users, saying the court covered for its members rather than taking the necessary steps to address problems.

“If he had run for retention, all this would have come up,” she said. “That’s the purpose of the statute — to have them run on their record. You can’t erase the record.”

Baricevic hasn’t seen the complaint because such matters are first vetted by the Inquiry Board to determine whether the complaint has merit.

“The vast majority of Judicial Inquiry Board complaints are unfounded. They’re people who don’t like the outcome of a case,” he told the Record. “It sounds to me like (the complaint) is just political.”

He said the board reviews complaints and, if there’s something to it, recommends a course of action to the Illinois Supreme Court. But the courts have already spoken on this issue, Baricevik said. 

As for compromising the public’s trust in the judicial system?

“How can you erode trust by following the constitution?” the judge said, adding that voters will demonstrate in the elections whether they trust him to fulfill the responsibilities and duties of the office. “The court of public opinion is one I respect. We’ll find out tomorrow.”

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board Illinois Supreme Court