Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, August 23, 2019

Ruocco: 'Not afraid to stand up for what is right, challenge status quo'

By Ann Maher | Mar 14, 2018

Attorney Katherine Ruocco of Swansea has a recommendation for voters who want change in the St. Clair County judiciary, a court system she says is "fraught with scandals" - vote for someone who is not part of the "establishment."

"I am for a fair and independent judiciary, like most of us, and want to keep politics out of the courtroom," Ruocco says in a campaign video. "I believe that if new judges enter the courtroom who aren't part of the establishment, that this will help improve the transparency, accountability and integrity of our judiciary."

Ruocco, a Republican, seeks election to the vacancy of Circuit Judge Jan Fiss, who is retiring at the end of his term in December. The seat is an at large position where voters in all five counties of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit - St. Clair, Monroe, Perry, Randolph and Washington - cast ballots.


In the March 20 primary, she faces fellow Republican Marissa attorney Marshall Hilmes. The winner will go on to the general election to face St. Clair County Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf.

After the release of the Illinois State Bar Association judicial advisory poll in February, in which she was given a "not recommended" rating, Ruocco denounced it as a political sword used by rivals from the opposing political party.

"The entrenched Democrat bar here in St. Clair County uses this poll as a means to discourage Republican judicial candidates from seeking office, and for use in attack ads later on," she said in a statement.  "A letter is sent with the results of the poll, stating that if you remove yourself from the ballot, the ISBA will refrain from publishing your results. This resembles the crime of intimidation, a threat to certain candidates to refrain from seeking office."

She said that in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit there is an "immediate" need for rebuilding trust for the judiciary by fostering productive and meaningful dialogue in the community.

“The public deserves an independent judge who follows the letter and spirit of the law, and remains free from political and personal influence," she said. "The judiciary shouldn’t be a haven for insiders with past or present business, employment, or personal judicial relationships.

"I have a proven track record of standing up for southern Illinois values...I am not afraid to stand up for what is right and to challenge the status quo."

In a court system where big money campaign contributions play a significant factor in electing judges, Ruocco said she would disqualify herself from all cases in which any party or entity has contributed more than $200 to her campaign finance committee.

"{L]ocal lawyers often make substantial monetary donations to judicial campaigns," she states in campaign literature. "This can lead to situations where judges decide cases argued by these same lawyers –their campaign contributors."

She has so far contributed a little more than $75,000 to her campaign committee, with no other outside contributions reported.

In terms of what changes are needed in the Illinois court system, she said probation offices have had significant problems being understaffed and officers being overworked - sometimes supervising caseloads two to three times greater than recommended.

"It can result in incarceration of offenders who could otherwise be on probation, insufficient monitoring and support of those who are on probation, and increased risk of re-offending," she said. "Public safety is at risk. We need to make sure that there is a plan in place as our judicial system can’t function without effective probation services.  

"The primary issue is that funding for the judicial branch has dropped more than 22 percent since 2002 while we’ve had rising costs. The judiciary needs to stay on top of the County Board to be sure that probation services funding remains a top priority, and also needs to work smarter and more efficiently to streamline and cut costs."

Her current legal practice, with offices in Belleville and St. Louis, focuses on elder law and "protection of the most vulnerable."

Ruocco said she has represented plaintiffs and defendants and practices in various areas, including administrative law, business associations, medical malpractice, nursing home negligence, family law, debtor protection, estate planning, probate and real estate transaction.

She has worked as an accredited attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs since 2008; is a veterans’ advocate and has been an appointed guardian, conservator, and VA fiduciary, according to her campaign literature.

Ruocco served as a Swansea village trustee from 2013-17. She ran for state Senate in 2014 against James Clayborne (D-Belleville) and lost by a narrow margin, and for state Representative in 2016 against Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville) and lost by a 20 point margin.

Ruocco, 50, is married to anesthesiologist Eric M. Ruocco, M.D., who practices at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in O’Fallon and they have four children.

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Twentieth Judicial Circuit of Illinois