Busy times in Twentieth Judicial Circuit in final stretch of election cycle, and beyond

By John Breslin | Oct 31, 2018

Three contested judicial elections that could potentially lead to three associate judge vacancies, three retention polls, one judge still on administrative duties, and controversy over bail for an alleged child murderer - these are busy times within in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit and for its Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson.

The three elections involve associate judges, all Democrats, against long shot, but serious Republican challengers - disadvantaged in terms of the fund-raising power enjoyed by their counterparts. 

If the associates win, they will be centrally involved, along with the other circuit judges, in appointing their replacements.

But Gleeson, along with Circuit Judges Daniel Emge and Zina Cruse, are also on next Tuesday's ballot as they ask for voters to retain them to additional six-year terms. Retention races do not involve listing a political affiliation next to their name on the ballot - voters are simply asked to vote yes or no. To be retained, circuit judges need at least 60 percent voter approval.


Gleeson  

Two of the three judges in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit are facing some form of opposition.

Cruse faces flak from a group led by the grandmother of a two-year-old allegedly killed by his mother's boyfriend. 

The group Justice for Kane formed in April after the alleged murderer of Kane Friess-Wylie - Gyasi Campbell -managed to post a $15,000 bond. This happened after Cruse reduced bail by 85 percent from $1 million to $150,000.

Separate from the criticism Cruse has received from Justice for Kane, she also has been the target of hateful and racist attacks from a Belleville-based radio talk show host. 

Organizer of Justice for Kane, Lori Friess, grandmother of Kane, has condemned the radio host's on air attacks.

In response to criticism on reducing bail for defendant Campbell, and without referencing any particular case, Cruse previously explained in a written statement to the Record issues related to a bail reform law that took effect in January.

She stated, "Illinois law requires that judges assess the likelihood of the defendant appearing for court, including trial. Judges consider the defendant’s past appearance history, and his or her felony criminal history."

Friess said she doesn't buy Cruse's explanation. She said she has read the bail reform act, and that it is targeted at poor, non-violent offenders who cannot post relatively small amounts of money, and are not a flight risk.

"He (Campbell) is a flight risk," Friess told the Record. "U.S. Marshals hunted him for two months, he has prior violent crimes, and is wanted in Arizona on felony drug charges."

Friess said she heard from several people that Gleeson had the power to remove a judge, and therefore reached out to him to discuss Cruse.

In fact, a chief judge cannot remove a fellow judge. Gleeson can only place a judge in the circuit on administrative duties, as was done with Circuit Judge Ronald Duebbert shortly after he was elected in 2016 over his association with David Fields, accused in the Dec. 30, 2016 murder of Carl Silas in Belleville. 

Fields has been jailed nearly two years. His case went to trial in July, but a mistrial was declared three days in. The case is scheduled to be re-tried next year. 

Friess said she wrote to Gleeson - whom she describes as "nothing but kind" and truthful - and that he responded to her saying he was in charge of administration and had no power to remove a judge.

As for efforts of Justice for Kane, Friess said her campaign will continue through next week's election and beyond.

"I am confident as a grandmother that I am doing everything I can," Friess said. "Whether we succeed or not is up to the voters."

Gleeson faces some opposition in the form of "No Retention Judge Gleeson" signs that have sprung up in locations throughout the five county circuit, and which are also disappearing, according to a Belleville resident involved in the effort.

Gleeson did not respond to a request for comment.

Regarding the effort to unseat Cruse, two Republican candidates weighed in on the bail controversy. Their opponents, Associate Judges Heinz Rudolf and John O'Gara did not respond to requests for comment.

Paul Evans, who faces O'Gara, was careful to explain that he was focused on his own race, but supports "individuals' freedom of speech, and especially political speech."

" I have no opinion on the merits of the claims being made on either side of that race," he told Record.

"However, elections are about informing the public of each candidate’s position. There are any number of ways to communicate in this day and age, and a judge on the ballot may engage in political activity to convey their positions or to rebut attacks."

Katherine Ruocco, up against Rudolf, said, "I'm devastated by the tragedy experienced by this family and their great loss."

She added, "I'm a zealous advocate for protecting children and holding those who harm children accountable. 

"A judge needs to take the appropriate actions under law after careful evaluation of the circumstances of each case."

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