Gavel Grab

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.” Read more

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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.

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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.” Read more

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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 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.” Read more

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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?” Read more

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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.  Read more

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Article: Will IL Judges ‘Skirt the Constitution’ to Seek Election?

St_Clair_County_Seal.271195813_stdThree circuit judges in St. Clair County, Il. have signaled they will seek another term on the bench by standing for election next year rather than for retention, as the state Constitution outlines, according to a article.

The article suggests the judges are taking an unusual though not entirely unprecedented electoral path after seeing Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier barely secure the required 60 percent voter approval threshold when he sought retention in 2014. Read more

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The Telegraph reports that Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, angered some legal experts when he called Madison County, Illinois a “judicial hellhole.” Akin believes the legal environment in the county discourages businesses from relocating there.
  • According to, some candidates for lower courts in Pennsylvania are planning to contest the election results from Tuesday’s election.
  • Arkansas Online reports that Special Circuit Judge David Laser of Jonesboro ruled that a case against two men accused of bribing Arkansas Judge Michael Maggio should proceed. Maggio pleaded guilty to the charges against him in January.
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Illinois Editorial: Keep the Checkbook out of the Courtroom

Darvocet-Stack-of-Cash-GavelIllinois Gov. Bruce Rauner probably couldn’t prove his remark this week that the state Supreme Court is part of a “corrupt” system (see Gavel Grab), a Chicago Sun-Times editorial says, but cynicism is bred by the millions of dollars flowing into judicial elections and reform ought to be considered.

“Merit selection of judges, the favored alternative of reformers, eliminates the need to raise campaign funds,” the editorial points out. “Judges are beholden to nobody’s wallet. Merit systems usually involve a commission that produces a list of qualified names from which political leaders or voters select new judges.”

The editorial slams sums poured into recent judicial races that “would embarrass a bagman from the 1980s Operation Greylord court scandal,” and it concludes, “From cases of petty crime to big constitutional questions, judicial decisions go down better with the public when there is no checkbook in the courtroom.” Read more

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Illinois Governor Doesn’t Trust High Court ‘To Be Rational’

rauner-CST-030914-01Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, told a suburban newspaper editorial board this week, “I don’t trust the [Illinois] Supreme Court to be rational in their decisions.” He added, “I think they’re activist judges who want to be legislators.”

A Chicago Tribune article said Rauner made his remarks as part of a trip around the state to promote his theme that the state government is corrupt and needs “structural reform.” Rauner earlier called for consideration of a move toward merit-based judicial selection in Illinois (see Gavel Grab).

In response to a question, Rauner told the Daily Herald that he believes the court is part of a “corrupt” system. “We have a system where we elect our judges, and the trial lawyers who argue cases in front of those judges give campaign cash to those judges. It’s a corrupt system,” he said. Read more

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