New Twist to IL Judicial Elections, and AP Quotes Justice at Stake

When the Associated Press took a look at an unusual twist in local Illinois judicial elections, it quoted Justice at Stake characterizing the saga as an extension of politics.

Three St. Clair County judges plan to quit their jobs later this year in order to run now for partisan election, rather than retention (up-or-down) election, with the latter requiring 60 percent of the vote to prevail rather than a simple majority (see Gavel Grab for background).

“If you’re a judge in a political system, you find a way to play within the system,” said Debra Erenberg, JAS director of state affairs. “They have found a loophole.”

The AP said the southern Illinois judges’ political maneuver “is drawing attention due to skyrocketing campaign costs and the undue influence that money might have.”

A Primary Victory, at Least, for Three County Judges in Illinois

Three St. Clair County, Illinois judges who quit their jobs to run for partisan election, rather than retention, were unopposed in a Democratic primary on Tuesday and won their nominations, according to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“The primary means nothing,” said Dallas Cook, city clerk of Belleville, Illinois, who has unsuccessfully brought legal challenges to the judges’ path (see Gavel Grab). He has appealed a court ruling that allowed the judges a place on the primary ballot.

By running for election, these candidates would need a majority to win, but judges who seek retention — the traditional route in the state —  need 60 percent of the vote to get a new term.

Appeal Request Cites Karmeier’s Refusal to Recuse

The St. Louis law firm of lawyer Stephen Tillery has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal and find that Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier improperly declined to recuse himself from a multi-billion dollar anti-tobacco case, according to a column by Jim Dey in The News-Gazette.

There is a long courtroom and judicial election saga involving the case. Last year, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled as it had before in favor of tobacco company Philip Morris, sparing it a $10.1 billion judgment, and Justice Karmeier voted in the 4-2 majority (see Gavel Grab).

In papers filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, the Tillery law firm asks “whether it violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment for a judge to participate in a case where the judge has made pejorative public statements about a litigant or an attorney, and there exists a reasonable public perception that one of the parties (Philip Morris) funded the judge’s election campaign.” (more…)

Local Judges May Appear on Partisan Ballot, Court Says

Three St. Clair County, Illinois judges may quit their jobs and run for partisan election, rather than retention, to new terms, a Sangamon County judge ruled this week.

Associate Judge Esteban Sanchez ruled that the state Constitution allows the trio the option they are pursuing, according to a MadisonRecord.com article. To learn background about the ongoing controversy, click here for Gavel Grab.

An appeal to the state Supreme Court is expected.

When He Retires, Judge’s Absence Will be Noticed

ct-ctlfl-ct-lns-retiring-judges-st-0123-jpg-20160122Judge George Bridges, the first and only African-American judge on the Lake County Circuit Court, will step down next week. Bridges and two other retiring judges will take a combined 71 years of experience with them when they leave, the Chicago Tribune reports. 

 The newspaper says, “Bridges said he does not define his career in terms of race but acknowledged that his trailblazing path as both the first African-American police chief in Waukegan and judge in Lake County Circuit Court is a legacy, and the community will notice his absence.”

Bridges told The Tribune, “We live in a world where race is still an issue. I know my retirement leaves a void. People feel comfortable seeing someone who speaks their language, someone who looks like them.” (more…)

Election Board to Rule on Challenge to Judges’ Candidacies

On Wednesday, the Illinois State Board of Elections will consider a challenge to the unusual case of three St. Clair County judges  who are retiring in December 2016 so they can stand for election, rather than for retention, which requires a higher level of voters’ support.

A hearing examiner has made a recommendation in favor of the judges, according to The Belleville News-Democrat, stating, “Because the candidates’ statements of candidacy meet the requirements (of state law) and are substantially in the form required by that section, the hearing examiner recommends that the objections to the statements of candidacy be overruled.”

The judges seek election on the Democratic ticket.Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook, a Republican, is challenging the constitutionality of the judges’ candidacies. If the elections board does not reject the judges’ candidacies, Cook said, he would appeal to the state’s highest court. You can learn more from Gavel Grab.

Editorial: Debating Criminal Justice Reform? Fix Judicial Selection

justice-scalesWith talk in the air around Chicago and Cook County about criminal justice reform, “Fixing the way we put judges on the bench should be part of that reform,” a Chicago Sun-Times editorial said. It advocated for a switch to merit selection.

The editorial gave scalding treatment to the system used in Illinois for the partisan election of judges, saying it suits political bosses and not the public and provides little way to select qualified jurists.

It commended systems for merit-based judicial selection, saying, “Unlike the electoral process, in which successful candidates tend to be those favored by politicians who do the slating, merit systems weed out the least qualified applicants. Merit systems also eliminate the need for judicial candidates to ask donors — often lawyers who later may appear before the judges — for money and to make campaign promises that can later undermine the appearance of impartiality.” (more…)

Unusual Election Bid of Judicial Trio is Challenged in Illinois

Remember the three St. Clair County, Illinois judges (see Gavel Grab) who are retiring in December 2016 so they can stand for election, rather than for retention, which requires a higher level of voters’ support? An objector now wants the state Board of Elections to strike their names from the ballot.

Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook is challenging the constitutionality of the judges’ candidacies, according to a MadisonRecord.com article. That article explains, “By tradition and law, judges seeking successive terms in Illinois are subject to running for retention in which the threshold for winning is higher – two-thirds voter approval – versus running for election in which only a simple majority is needed.” (more…)

NPR Zeroes in on IL Court Election, Questions of Impartial Justice

Earlier this month, the Illinois Supreme Court spared tobacco maker Philip Morris a $10.1 billion judgment, at least for now, as Gavel Grab has mentioned. This week, NPR Illinois aired some questions, involving the case and judicial elections, that trouble defenders of impartial courts.

bg1NPR focused on the vote in the court majority opinion of Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who was targeted with heavy spending in his retention election just last year from lawyers and law firms representing plaintiffs suing Philip Morris. A report coauthored by Justice at Stake said recently, “Funneling money into efforts to oust Karmeier in 2014 was a new group called ‘Campaign for 2016,’ created less than a month before Karmeier’s retention election and funded entirely by a group of plaintiffs’ lawyers and firms. During the PAC’s short existence, these lawyers and law firms poured over $2 million into the fund for the express purpose of campaigning against Karmeier—with 85 percent of the funding coming from lawyers and law firms that were representing the plaintiffs in the Philip Morris case.”

“Justice Rules Against Lawyers Who Tried to Defeat Him,” the NPR headline said, continuing, “Ideology has long been at the heart of high-profile judicial battles, whether the judges are elected or appointed. But is it different when the fight puts a specific case on the line?” (more…)

Illinois Court Spares Philip Morris a Big Verdict, for Now

There is a new milestone in multi-billion dollar anti-tobacco litigation that has figured centrally in big judicial election spending in Illinois. On Wednesday, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled again in favor of tobacco company Philip Morris, sparing it a $10.1 billion judgment at least for now, according to NPR Illinois.

Justice Lloyd Karmeier voted in the 4-2 majority. The high court said, according to Reuters, that “lower-level state courts lacked authority under Illinois law to reimpose the verdict first rendered in 2003 against Philip Morris, a unit of Altria Group Inc that makes Marlboro cigarettes,” and the high court also said “the plaintiffs could still ask the Illinois Supreme Court itself to reinstate the award, which it had thrown out in 2005.” Karmeier voted then to invalidate the award against Philip Morris.

When Karmeier ran for retention (yes-or-no) election last year, a $3 million spending battle “was largely linked  to interests with a connection” to this ongoing litigation, Justice at Stake and two partner organizations reported in the recently released Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14.  (more…)