The Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) has evaluated judicial candidates running across the state in next week's primary, and for the local ones who participated in the tort reform group's survey, all received ratings of "recommended" or better.
Fifth District Appellate Court Judge David Overstreet - a Republican seeking a "permanent" seat on the court - Third Judicial Circuit Court Judge David Dugan - a Republican seeking the "Barberis" vacancy he currently occupies - and O'Fallon attorney Paul Evans - a Republican seeking the "Lopinot" vacancy in St. Clair County - all were rated "highly recommended" in the evaluation.
John Pastuovic, president of ICJL, said the initiative is part of the "most complete and comprehensive" voter education initiative of its kind, designed to assist voters in making informed decisions about their judicial candidates.
Candidates running in the March 20 primary were given the opportunity to answer questions about their careers and candidacies in their own words, which were then published in unedited form on its website. "Judges: Good and Bad-You Can’t Afford to be Indifferent" can be found at illinoisjudges.net.
According to the ICJL, the rating of recommended was given to judges or judicial candidates who have demonstrated a satisfactory level of competency in regards to their legal and/or judicial careers, and/or who have demonstrated their commitment to educating the voters about their background, experience and viewpoints on the judicial system. Highly recommended was reserved for candidates or judges who have demonstrated a high level of competency based on those criteria.
A not recommended rating was given to only one candidate in the state: Cook County's Thirteenth Subcircuit, Democrat Shannon P. O’Malley, a Schaumburg attorney formerly known as Phillip Spiwak, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican candidate for Will County judge in 2010.
“In a blatant attempt to improve his electoral prospects, O’Malley is deceiving voters by changing his party affiliation and his perceived ethnic origin,” said Pastuovic. “In our opinion, his cynical attempt to game the electoral process disqualifies him for any office, particularly that of judge."
Pastuovic said that the ICJL took "no position" on candidates who did not return the questionnaire, and/or their candidacy left it insufficient information to assign a rating. However, additional recommendations will be made for general election contests and retention contests later in the year, he said.
Following are excerpts from participating candidates' questionnaires:
Fifth District Appellate Court – Goldenhersh vacancy
On civil litigation reform -
Overstreet: Any civil litigation reforms would ideally originate from the legislature as it is the legislature’s province to enact laws. The Supreme Court has the province to interpret the laws and the Constitution, but it also has the power to set forth rules for our court system. To the extent legislation which attempts civil litigation reforms is deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, then Constitutional amendment would certainly be the mechanism to enact those reforms. As addressed below, I have generally had a positive view of the way the system works, at least in the Second Judicial Circuit, based upon my experiences as a Circuit Judge presiding over a regular civil law docket while presiding over some 25 civil jury trials.
Overstreet will face Belleville attorney Kevin Hoerner in the general election. Hoerner, a Democrat, did not submit answers to the ICJL questionnaire.
Third Circuit- Madison County - Barberis vacancy
On mandatory arbitration -
Dugan: Litigation costs can be crippling. One avenue that can help in this respect is akin to one of the dockets that I manage and that is mandatory arbitration. Under this program, which I believe should be expanded, simplified arbitration, which must take place within 6 months of the filing of the suit, is required before the case may proceed to trial. Discovery and case preparation is expedited which translates into lower cost. Any party who wishes to reject the arbitration award may do so upon the payment of a fee. From the last data I have received we have a 60 percent acceptance rate and that doesn’t include those cases that settle at some time thereafter. Lawyers from both sides have told me that they are in favor of the mandatory arbitration docket.
The mandatory arbitration concept has some favorable benefits. For example, early in the process, cases that may be less than viable are often culled from the docket because arbitrators will provide objective review, which often lends itself to avoidance of truly frivolous lawsuits while still preserving the constitutional right to a jury trial.
Dugan will face Maryville attorney Marc Parker in the general election, Parker, a Democrat did not submit answers to the questionnaire.
Twentieth Judicial Circuit (circuitwide - St. Clair, Monroe, Perry, Randolph and Washington counties) - Lopinot vacancy
One change you would make to the state court system -
Evans: I have been very dubious about the use of "status conferences" that are set in mass "cattle call" dockets. This is a process which engenders that clients are billed quarterly, at least in this Circuit. I believe these status conferences generate very little productivity, and if there is a Motion or something of substance, the local judges tend to state it has to be heard on a different docket.
With technology, I think it could be a vast improvement of judicial resources, and the clients' resources, to devise a method of electronically reporting on the status of a case. I recognize that in the "old days" lawyers being physically present was the only means of communication, often serving as a great source of camaraderie and a general chance to do business and gossip. However, I propose maximizing the potential of our current technology by finding more efficient means to replace the traditional status docket.
Associate Judge John O'Gara: While the old saying of justice grinding slow-but fine- is often true, I would like to see an increase in appearances by phone or Skype or FaceTime type technology in order to save time for the litigants and the court along with an emphasis on reducing the time it takes to conclude litigation. Civil litigants should be able to depend on a thorough and timely disposition of their cases. Individuals who face criminal charges, and victims of crime, should also be assured that such cases are adequately investigated and litigated in a manner which is dignified, complete and timely.
Evans will face O'Gara, a Democrat, in the general election. The ICJL has given O'Gara a recommended rating.
Twentieth Judicial Circuit (circuitwide) - Fiss vacancy
On deterring "frivolous" litigation -
Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf: The efficient administration of justice to address frivolous lawsuits requires a strong, experienced judiciary. An experienced Judge has the tools to identify frivolous litigation. The key is making sure we choose Judges who have the proper experience and knowledge to properly use these tools. I have the knowledge, experience and legal ability to recognize and address frivolous lawsuits. Electing Judges that have the legal ability and experience to know the difference between a legitimate versus a frivolous claim is vital to the efficient administration of justice in our community. I have served as a Judge for the past 12 years. I have presided over thousands of cases, hundreds of bench trials and dozens of jury trials. My judicial experience gives me the tools to recognize frivolous claims and handle them accordingly.
Rudolf, a Democrat, is running unopposed in the primary. In the general election, he will face either Marissa attorney Marshall Hilmes or Swansea attorney Katherine Ruocco, Republicans. Neither Hilmes nor Ruocco completed the ICJL survey.
Other local races:
Third Judicial Circuit
Crowder vacancy - Associate Judge Sarah Smith, a Democrat, will face Edwardsville attorney Mark Rabe, a Republican, in the general election. Neither candidate submitted answers to the ICJL survey.
Knight vacancy: Bond County State's Attorney Chris Bauer is running unopposed in the primary and general election. Bauer, a Democrat, did not answer the ICJL survey.
Twentieth Judicial Circuit
LeChien vacancy - Associate Judge Chris Kolker, a Democrat, will face Belleville attorney Laninya Cason, a Republican, in the general election. Neither candidate submitted answers to the ICJL survey.