Survey: Illinois High Court Candidates Want Recusal Guidelines

Candidates for the Illinois Supreme Court who were surveyed by a campaign reform group desire guidelines for when a justice should recuse himself or herself in cases involving judicial campaign contributors.

Responses to the survey by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform were the topic of a news report by the Illinois Radio Network.

Whitney Woodward of ICPR told the radio network that rising sums of campaign cash pouring in to judicial election damage trust in the court. She pointed to the 2004 Illinois Supreme Court election, when $9.3 million was raised in the most expensive state judicial campaign in U.S. history.

Incumbent Justice Mary Jane Theis, who is one of the candidates for a Supreme Court seat from Cook County, said in response to the survey that ethics rules recently adopted in Tennessee “are very interesting, and I believe they can be a framework for revisions to our Rules.”

Tennessee’s new Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from hearing cases involving campaign supporters in which “the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned” (see Gavel Grab).

Supreme Court candidates Joy Cunningham and Aurelia Pucinski, who are appellate justices, both responded affirmatively to the survey question, “Do you support the creation of procedures and uniform guidelines for recusal where attorneys or litigants before the court have contributed to campaign committees in support of their candidacy?”

Justice Pucinski added, “I think that judges should be responsible for knowing who has contributed to them or endorsed them, that the information should be available on the judge’s website, and that the judge should give a reason for recusal. Ultimately the best way to avoid the need for recusal, either because of an actual or apparent conflict of interest is to avoid the problem before it begins.”

The three are leading Democratic candidates for the court. The questionnaire was conducted jointly by IPCR and Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, two JAS partner groups.


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