Voters in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit - St. Clair, Monroe, Perry, Randolph and Washington counties - will be asked in next month's election whether circuit judges Andrew Gleeson (chief judge), Zina Cruse (at large judge) and Daniel Emge (Washington County resident judge) should be retained - yes or no.
In a retention vote, candidates are not associated with political parties, though when they first ran Gleeson and Cruse were elected as Democrats and Emge as a Republican. They need at least 60 percent voter approval to keep their seats for additional six year terms.
Here's how the judges answered questions from the Illinois Civil Justice League.
State the main reason why voters should return you to the bench.
Gleeson: Experience is essential in our courts. I am hardworking, well prepared and treat all with dignity and respect. I believe in the Constitution of the United States and the judicial framework established by our founding Fathers. My ultimate goal each and every day is to attain due process for all.
Cruse: In addition to the critiques listed in (the last question) and while it is somewhat difficult to state only one, I believe my distinction on the bench is one of the main reasons voters should return me to the bench. For the past six years I have served as the only African-American and the only woman on the circuit bench in the 20th Judicial Circuit. Of course, that does not make me special, however with that distinction comes the heightened ability to appreciate both the differences and similarities in the people who I interact with from the bench, including individual litigants, their representatives and those affected by the case. To the extent that I can, I try to put my finger on the pulse of the lives of those involved in and affected by the cases before me. This enables me to more clearly see them for who they are and examine the case more comprehensively, versus with tunnel vision.
Our Circuit is a multiformity: Socio-economically, culturally, racially, by gender, by age, by level of education, etc. I consider the people who come before me without preconceived notions of who they are or who I think they should be. I highlight this as one of the main reasons voters should return me to the bench because these qualities in a jurist are essential to impartiality and boost confidence in the judiciary.
Emge: I try to base all of my decisions on the law, and how the facts of the case before me apply to that law. Basing decisions on the law is many times more difficult than it sounds. In some instances, the outcome may not be popular with the public, or the media. In some instances, the outcome may not align with my own personal values or opinion. However, the oath that I took when I was sworn in as circuit judge was to interpret and apply the law of Illinois to the best of my ability, not to make decisions based on my own beliefs or public perception. I am a firm believer that all judges should follow the law in every case.
What actions have you taken as a judge of which you are most proud?
Gleeson: I am proud that on a daily basis I use my experience and skill sets to effectuate the efficient handling of a busy, varied and complex docket. I meet the challenges of each day with an open mind, allow all to be heard and rule based on the application of the law to the individual facts of each case.
Cruse: One of the actions I have taken as a judge that I am most proud of is serving as a problem-solving court judge. I preside over a Veterans Court and a Mental Health Court–over and above a full felony docket. With reducing recidivism as a target, these dockets provide resources for certain offenders and require participation with the Department of Veterans Affairs and/or community-based programs and services. We try to address the underlying problems which might have contributed to an offender’s run-in with the criminal justice system. As a problem-solving court judge over our Veterans Court, this gives me the opportunity to give back to the men and women who either currently serve or have served in the U. S. Military.
Emge: The accomplishment that I am most proud of is that myself and several other stakeholders started a drug court in Washington and Perry Counties. This drug court is thriving, and is accomplishing our goals of connecting participants to treatment and other necessary services that they need to overcome their addiction issues and reducing recidivism. I am also proud to be engaged with the youth in our communities. On countless occasions, I have gone into our schools and given presentations on the judicial branch of government, drug and alcohol awareness, and have promoted the legal profession at career fairs.
I have been very active in presenting the “7 Reasons to Leave the Party” and “Worries of the World Wide Web” programs created by the Illinois Judges Association to students, as well as their parents, throughout the 20th Judicial Circuit. I have also organized and presented at town hall type meetings regarding the opioid epidemic. I believe that as judges, we have the ability to serve our communities in many ways, and our presence and efforts outside of the courthouse are many times just as important as our work inside of the courthouse.
Name and describe one change you would make in the Illinois court system.
Gleeson: I am not a legislator nor a policy maker. My hope for our courts is that all people, regardless of means, receive equal access and equal justice.
Cruse: There are many moving parts to the Illinois court system. Fortunately, many of the areas in the court system are fluid and the opportunity to change is on-going. However, speaking from a jurist’s perspective, one change I would make in the Illinois court system that is less so, is to provide a mechanism for people to have a clearer understanding of the role of the judiciary. I agree with the ICJL that the judicial branch of government is misunderstood yet important. As judges, our lives can be somewhat monastic. Understandably, we are not allowed to discuss cases or issues which could come before us.
We do not want even the appearance of impropriety. Often, erring on the side of caution, this may cause us to stay silent when it comes to most discussions – no matter how distantly related to a case or issue which may come before us. There is little opportunity to clarify or explain our role when we are publicly ridiculed or vilified. I would develop a process, with established boundaries, by which judges are able to provide details which explain the procedures and judicial role throughout cases without breaching our judicial canons or putting the integrity of the litigation in jeopardy.
Emge: I serve as judge in a county where I am the only judge the vast majority of the time. This means that I hear all types of cases. One of the things that I have noticed is that the number of self-represented litigants has increased significantly over the past 5-10 years. I believe this is a trend that is being noticed in other jurisdictions as well. If I could change any aspect of the court system, I would make the system more navigable and user-friendly for self-represented litigants. This would assist in leveling the playing field in cases where one party is self-represented and the other party has counsel. It would also make the court system more efficient and run much smoother.
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?
Gleeson: My scores on that prominent evaluation always range from the mid to high 90s on these categories. This is true even though I handle a complex docket in an adversarial system and these polls are done at election time. I work each day to uphold the ideals reflected by these independent, anonymous polls. Being judged by those who appear before me on a daily basis is the best reflection of my personal approach as a judge.
Cruse: Integrity: I stay mindful of the judicial canons which are a guide for our conduct. I review and adhere to them, especially when faced with circumstances I may not be sure of. I do not adjust my conduct or my moral/ethical compass based on pressure or others’ opinions. I understand “integrity” must be the foundation for my conduct, whether or not someone is watching or listening.
Impartiality: Referring to my response to #1, I do not rule based on any pre-disposition. I do not allow improper influence to guide my rulings. I practice neutrality and I am open-minded. I do not jump to unsubstantiated conclusions. I rule based on what is relevant and make every effort to dispense fair justice.
Legal Ability: I have been a judge for over nine years. I have been assigned to traffic, misdemeanor, family, and [currently] felony dockets. Additionally, I have presided over cases in juvenile, probate, and civil. Prior to taking the bench, I practiced law for about 15 years. As a sole practitioner, I was not pigeon-holed into one area of expertise. My practice emphases were family/domestic, minor personal injury, small business, not-for-profit organizations, real estate, municipal and bankruptcy. I was a certified Guardian ad Litem, certified arbitrator in St. Clair County’s Mandatory Arbitration program, and an assistant public defender.
Temperament (Exercise the judicial temperament to serve with appropriate courtesy, consideration, firmness, fairness, patience and dignity): I am firm but fair, mixed with compassion and understanding. I always give people an opportunity to talk. I am clear in what I expect and what can be expected of me. If the tenor of a proceeding becomes volatile, I remain calm. If I feel any sense of offense or attack, I sit back and take a deep breath and make sure I maintain my composure and stay conscientious. I maintain control in the courtroom, sometimes with a commanding voice. I do not ridicule, embarrass or demean people.
Emge: Integrity – I always try to act with the utmost integrity in everything that I do, including in performing my judicial duties. I try to be honest with everyone that I come into contact with, even if they may not like the message I am conveying. I treat my job as if someone is always observing me and monitoring my performance, because they are, whether it be court staff, attorneys, self-represented litigants, my colleagues, or the public at large.
Impartiality – I come into every case with an open mind, without any bias towards either side. I let both parties tell their story have their “day in court”. The decisions that I make are always made based on the evidence presented in open court.
Legal Ability – No person, including me, knows the law on every subject imaginable. That would be impossible. However, I do believe that I am able to find the applicable law if I am unfamiliar with the area of the law in the case before me. Also, prior to court, I always review my cases and familiarize myself with the law in the event I am unfamiliar with it.
Temperament – I try to be fair, but firm with all litigants. I also am courteous and polite to them. I treat them with respect. I also try to be patient with all litigants and attorneys, especially self-represented litigants.