Madison - St. Clair Record

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Hightower only associate judge in local circuits not recommended in ISBA poll; Elected circuit judges will decide reappointment


By Ann Maher | May 14, 2019

Hightower and Julian

Results from the Illinois State Bar Association's recently released advisory poll of associate judges indicate that a relatively small number of attorneys can have a big impact on outcome. 

For Madison County Associate Judge Jennifer Hightower, first appointed in 2015, the results were not so good as she was the only judge among 13 associates in the Third Judicial Circuit not recommended for reappointment.

Attorneys who participate in the poll, which comes in advance of the reappointment process for all associate judges in Illinois, are asked to evaluate only if they have sufficient knowledge about the judge's qualifications "to give a fair, informed opinion."

According to the ISBA, 528 ballots were mailed to attorneys who practice in Madison and Bond counties, though a spokesperson indicated the number of ballots returned is not made public, nor the number of attorneys who weigh in on any given judge. 

The Record, however, learned that a total of 189 ballots were returned for the Third Judicial Circuit and 126 attorneys - representing 24 percent of those who received ballots - evaluated Hightower. 

"Unfortunately, we cannot provide the number returned in each circuit, but the responses returned make our polls statistically valid," stated ISBA media manager Rhys Saunders in an emailed statement. 

Hightower has presided over a criminal docket exclusively in the past four years, and predominantly over the DUI docket, where a limited number of attorneys practice.The 126 attorneys who evaluated Hightower gave her a 62.60 overall score in "meets requirements of office," short of the minimum 65 that would generate a "recommended" rating.

The poll asks attorneys to rate judges on integrity, impartiality, legal ability, temperament, court management, health and sensitivity. 

The poll is advisory in nature, as associate judges earn their positions through appointment and re-appointment by the circuit's elected judges to four year terms. The ISBA says it releases polls to the public "because all judges are public officials and the opinions of their professional colleagues about their performance is of public interest."

To get reappointed, associate judges must get at least 60 percent support from circuit judges who cast secret ballots, which are tabulated at the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts in Springfield. The next term begins July 1 and runs through June 30, 2023.

While Hightower was rated negatively following nearly four years on the bench, the newest jurist, former asbestos attorney Barry Julian, was given a nod with a 78.35 recommended approval rating after roughly three months on the job.

Other judges in the Third Judicial Circuit, all Democrats except for Republican Stephen Stobbs, were recommended with the following approval ratings:

Philip Alfeld, 93.08

Thomas Chapman, 86.96

Ronald Foster, Jr., 93.86

Clarence Harrison, 95.24

Janet Heflin, 83.64

Anthony Jumper, 95.28

Martin Mengarelli, 95.62

Neil Schroeder, 96.30

Maureen Schuette, 93.22

Ronald Slemer, 93.98

Stephen Stobbs, 97.42

In the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, all 12 associate judges - all Democrats - were recommended by the lawyers who participated in the survey, including ones who have been on the bench for just a few months: Stacy Campbell, 92.11; Kevin Hoerner, 94.35; Patrick Foley, 96.23 and Jeffrey Watson, 97.22.

A total of 601 ballots were mailed to attorneys in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, which includes St. Clair, Monroe, Perry, Randolph and Washington counties.

Other judges in the circuit were recommended with the following approval ratings:

Stacy Campbell, 92.11

Thomas Cannady, 95.24

William Clay, 92.22

Julia Gomric, 93.48

Eugene Gross, 100

Julie Katz, 96.71

Patricia Kievlan, 76.36

Alana Mejias, 93.81

Tameeka Purchase, 93.75

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