ELMHURST - To better educate Illinois voters about choices for judges, Monday the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) released the ratings of judges and judicial candidates running for election and retention in the November General Elections.
The ICJL judicial ratings are a part of the most complete and comprehensive voter education initiative of its kind, designed to assist voters in making informed decisions about the judicial candidates on their ballot.
The initiative called Judges: Good and Bad-You Can’t Afford to be Indifferent can be found at illinoisjudges.net.
“The ICJL invited judges and judicial candidates running for election or retention to submit answers to questions about their careers and candidacies in their own words which the ICJL then published in unedited form on its website, illinoisjudges.net,” according to John Pastuovic, President of the Illinois Civil Justice League.
“In addition to providing this information to voters, the ICJL has evaluated the questionnaire answers, judicial and career records, media accounts, bar ratings, campaign contributions, and other sources of information about each judge and judicial candidate to establish individual ratings,” he said.
Judges and judicial candidates running for election were considered for ratings of Highly Recommended, Recommended, Not Recommended, or No Position. Judges running for retention were rated either Yes or No on retention.
“After completing the evaluation process, we are pleased to report that voters, particularly in Cook County, will have the opportunity to vote for a number of candidates who will bring a high level of knowledge and experience to the bench,” Pastuovic continued.
The ICJL says they are compelled to draw the voters’ attention to a number of judges whose actions disqualify them to serve.
Metro East-area trial lawyers have donated $585,000 to an independent expenditure group supporting two Democratic 5th Appellate Court District candidates, Jo Beth Weber and Brad Bleyer. It has been reported that the group has sent out mailers on the candidates’ behalf, and TV ads are expected.
“It is impossible for anyone to believe that any candidate for judge, particularly those running in Madison County, would not be influenced by this much trial attorney cash,” said Pastuovic. “We find their willingness to accept this amount of trial attorney financial support deeply troubling, and based on their action, the ICJL rates Jo Beth Weber and Brad Bleyer as Not Recommended. Conversely, we rate their opponents Randy Moore and John Barberis as Highly Recommended,” he added.
The ICJL also rated St. Clair County Chief Judge John Baricevic and Circuit Judges Robert LeChien and Robert Haida as "Not Recommended." All three candidates were facing an uphill retention election, which requires 60 percent voter approval in November, but have purposefully gamed the system.
“Instead of running for retention, they subverted the process by turning in their resignations and filed as candidates in the March 15 primary, where they only needed a simple majority to win,” Pastuovic commented. “It is critical that voters in St. Clair County are aware that with this unethical maneuver, these judges ignored the intent and spirit of the Illinois Constitution and are deemed Not Recommended.”
Rhonda Crawford, Candidate for Cook County Subcircuit Judge, has also been rated as "Not Recommended." In August, Crawford was job shadowing Cook County Circuit Judge Valarie Turner when Turner had the bright idea to let Crawford preside over three traffic cases. When it was discovered that a fake judge was on the bench, the cases had to be dismissed. Turner was put on administrative tasks for her role in this travesty, and Crawford has since been indicted.
“However, short of a conviction or Supreme Court action, Crawford will remain on the ballot, and it is up to the voters to ensure she never presides over a courtroom,” Pastuovic said. “This case has become a major embarrassment for the Cook County judicial system and is just one more example of why Illinois must reform its civil justice system,” he continued.
Chancery Division Judge Diane Larsen retention election could be the most important for Illinoisans this year. Her decisions have been some of the most controversial and newsworthy, showing that one Cook County Judge can wield much power and influence on the State’s political system.
“In July, Judge Larsen deemed that Governor Rauner’s second attempt at a ballot initiative for independent legislative map drawing unconstitutional on two grounds: that is was ‘not limited to structural and procedural subjects’ and that it violated the constitutional provision that amendments be limited to one, single topic,” states Pastuovic. “A year earlier, she controversially overturned two preceding rulings to deny state workers’ paychecks while the State waited for a budget, which was ultimately overturned,” he continued.
But, Judge Larsen will be most-defined by her 2007 finding that the bipartisan, comprehensive medical liability reform legislation was unconstitutional. “She is an expert in dousing citizen-initiated reforms, and she is Not Recommended for retention to the Cook County bench,” concluded Pastuovic.
Judges: Good and Bad-You Can’t Afford to be Indifferent can be found at illinoisjudges.net. Click here to download the complete 2016 Illinois Civil Justice League Judicial Ratings.