Associate Judge Rudolf fends off Republican challenge for circuit court seat

By John Breslin | Nov 7, 2018

Associate Judge Heinz Rudolph has defeated his Republican challenger for a seat on the 20th Judicial Circuit.

Rudolph defeated attorney Katherine Ruocco by four percentage points in the race to fill the spot being vacated by the retiring Circuit Judge Jan Fiss.

The unofficial final tallies show Rudolf with 67,357 votes to Ruocco's 62,711.

"I am deeply humbled and grateful for the overwhelming community outreach during our campaign and look forward to all votes being counted, and the official results being released soon," Ruocco told the Record.

Rudolf did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the election.

But in a statement posted on his campaign Facebook page, Rudolf said, "I’m humbled and thankful by the support of the voters in the 20th Judicial Circuit that have concluded that experience and integrity matter. I will continue to provide everyone with due process and the opportunity to be heard.”

As in the other judicial races for the open circuit court seats, the Republican was favored in four counties outside of St. Clair. Ruocco received 8,582 more votes than her opponent in Monroe, Perry, Randolph and Washington counties.

Rudolf got 6,868 more votes than Ruocco in St. Clair County. Separately, the Democrat won by 6,683 to 323 in East St. Louis, a margin of 95 to 5 percent.

A Belleville-based lawyer, Ruocco, self-funded her campaign with $127,000, including $20,000 since the start of October.

During the campaign, Ruocco was critical of the campaign funds local attorneys poured into the campaigns of Democrat judicial candidates, including Rudolf, Associate Judges Chris Kolker and John O'Gara. All three judges appear to have won their elections, although attorney Paul Evans said he is not conceding his race to O'Gara until outstanding and provisional ballots are counted. 

Rudolf raised more than $150,000, largely from local lawyers and law firms.

Ahead of the election, Ruocco was forceful in her criticism of what she believes is the way too cozy relationship between the legal community of Belleville and beyond, and the bench.

"Our current system appears fair at face value, but the establishment has created a system to control bench access which makes it difficult for anyone other than the elite and powerful to serve," Ruocco told the Record.

Rudolf, appointed associate judge a dozen years ago, believes he has the proven experience, and the "Integrity, impartiality and temperament" to step up to the position of circuit judge.

In a reply to a questionnaire sent out by the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICLJ), which is mainly made up of trade and business groups, Rudolf cited the high ratings of the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) poll of attorneys, regularly in the 90s, as an indicator of his experience, expertise, and the regard he is held within the legal community.

Ruocco, of Swansea and in private practice in Belleville for nearly 15 years, received ratings in the teens and 20s, though only around 60 attorneys responded.

She said, "These are inaccurate, politically divisive evaluations, and an effort to influence judicial decisions."

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