Madison County Circuit Judge David Dugan, who is running on the Republican ticket for the seat he currently occupies, said he believes in an “independent judiciary” that is “above the fray of politics” and is troubled by the political makeup of the Madison County judiciary.
Dugan is currently the only Republican circuit judge in the Third Judicial Circuit, which includes Madison and Bond Counties.
“Intellectual diversity is just as important as any other diversity,” he said.
Dugan was appointed to fill the vacancy created when former Circuit Judge John Barberis Jr. was elected to the Fifth District Appellate Court. Barbaris was the only Republican Madison County circuit judge when he served on the bench, defying all odds to win an election against current Madison County Associate Judge Clarence Harrison, a Democrat.
Prior to Barberis' election, attorney Don Weber, a Republican, was appointed circuit judge to fill a vacancy created when former Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis retired in 2005. Weber then ran for circuit judge in the 2006 general election and lost to current Chief Judge David Hylla, a Democrat.
Dugan said he is a “big proponent of an independent judiciary” where “judges are kept away from or above the fray of politics.”
However, he said it can be difficult to be completely independent and still get a voice heard, especially when judges are elected alongside politicians.
“My concern is that because they lump the judges in with the rest of the politicians, and I am no politician I can assure you …, but the process turns us all into politicians. And that’s not a good indicator of what kind of job a judge is going to do or can do,” he said.
He said it would be better if judges went through a process similar to his appointment process, where he was heavily vetted.
Instead, judges who are elected as lawyers don’t go through any vetting process, and the “public makes an assessment of them with minimal information.”
He said sometimes the public will pick a candidate, who will then serve a six-year term, based on how many signs are set up.
“Six years is a long time,” he said.
Dugan said judges are given “an immense amount of power” once they put on the robe, and that power should be granted with careful consideration.
“So the election process doesn’t serve it well at the judicial level,” Dugan said.
“But you really cannot run a campaign and be above the fray completely,” he added.
Dugan said he has accepted some endorsements in his campaign, but none from political special interest groups.
“Because once you get here as a judge, you cannot do anything for them,” he said. “You should not do anything for them.”
Instead, his endorsements have come from organizations that reflect who he is as a person, such as pro-life groups.
The Democratic candidates running for circuit judge in Madison County have received campaign contributions from the plaintiffs’ bar, which Dugan said is bewildering because the Republican candidates are not receiving money from the plaintiffs’ bar.
Dugan said plaintiffs firms and attorneys have been funding Democratic judicial races since he began his career as a litigator.
“It has been that way my entire career,” he said.
However, he said campaigns are not nearly as heavily funded as they once were.
He said that while there is nothing tortious with the plaintiffs’ bar funding judicial campaigns, there’s always a concern that it could injure the people’s confidence and the court’s appearance, ”whatever confidence they might have left in the court system.”
Dugan said that despite the funding differences, he has enjoyed the election process.
“Campaigning itself can be taxing but invigorating at the same time,” he said.
Dugan said he spends about 60 hours per week fulfilling duties as circuit judge and then spends his spare time campaigning, which has kept him busy.
“This is the first time I ran for any office since 7th grade student council,” he joked.
He said he brings more than 30 years of experience to the bench, including experience litigating for both plaintiffs and defendants. He’s also prosecuted and defended people charged with crimes.
“I’m certainly well qualified for the position,” he said. “I’ve run the gamut.”
He also said he has had good standings with the lawyers who have appeared before him in his courtroom, and he’s never been reversed.
“I’ve been told I’m doing a pretty good job by both sides,” Dugan said.
He’s also never been asked to recuse himself from a case due to an alleged bias or prejudice.
His opponent’s campaign manager’s law firm is currently appearing before him in a case and has not asked him to recuse himself. Dugan added that he has offered the firm the chance for a recusal.
“I think that’s a pretty strong testament that I’m fair,” Dugan said.
Dugan is running against Collinsville attorney Marc Parker. Parker’s campaign chairman is David Galanti of Galanti Law Offices PC in East Alton.
Dugan oversees the arbitration docket, but also handles a number of law cases and miscellaneous remedies, such as name changes.
He graduated from Eastern Illinois University in 1982 and Valparaiso University School of Law in 1985.
He has been married to his wife, Susan, for 32 years. The couple has one daughter, Sarah, who is currently serving in Afghanistan as a Captain in the United States Air Force.