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ABOUT JUDICIAL ELECTIONS

Posted on March 02, 2012

On March 20, we will go to our polling places, vote on all sorts of political offices, and then the judicial contests.  For most people reading a Rogers Park blog, you will have 14 or 15 more votes to cast (not counting uncontested races).  Unfortunately, for most of us it is like looking at a telephone book from another city and being asked which of the random appearing names we would like to decide questions on cases that might involve our freedom, child custody, money, property, taxes - the list gets pretty long.  Worst of all, most voters simply do not know anything about any of the candidates.  What’s to do?
Some people turn up their nose and say: “I never vote in primaries, I wait until the general election in November.”  The good news is that it does simplify things; the bad news is that voters who skip primaries get no choice at all about the vast majority of judicial races, since very few Cook County judicial races have any Republican candidates.  For those who want to vote more intelligently than simply deciding which names look better, I will try to explain more about the process, and information available.
Every couple years Rogers Park is flooded by judicial candidates seeking our votes.  Selecting competent, experienced and independent judges is a serious matter.  However, newspapers and broadcast media provide virtually no coverage or analysis of judicial candidates.  The Chicago Tribune is expected to issue its endorsements in all judicial races soon, but for the most part the Trib’s coverage is limited to one paragraph of text concerning each race.  Many individual candidates are ignored, mentioned in only one sentence, or listed in a sentence that starts: “Other candidates are: …”  Since the Sun-Times apparently does not want to issue endorsements any more, do not look for any coverage there.  What’s to do?
Any discussion of judicial candidates usually begins with the evaluations of 12 local bar associations.  The evaluations are available on the internet.  The Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening provides a joint process for 11 of those bar associations, while the Chicago Bar Association has its own independent evaluation. Judicial candidates are asked to fill out long forms - one for the Alliance, another for the Chicago Bar Association - requesting extensive information on cases handled, judges before whom they have appeared and references.  Volunteer investigators from the bar associations then contact references listed by the candidates, and seek information from others who may have pertinent information on a candidate.
After completion of the investigation, candidates are asked to appear for interviews before the judicial evaluation committees –one joint interview with representatives of all 11 Alliance member organizations, another for the CBA.  Then based on the investigation, material submitted, interviews and the general opinions of the various bar associations involved, each determines its own rating to issue.  Only two organizations publish reasons for their evaluations: Chicago Council of Lawyers (one of the Alliance organizations) and Chicago Bar Association.  Here are the Internet sites where you can find the evaluations:
Chicago Council of Lawyers detailed evaluation reports, and a two-page summary of the results (separate links) can be found at the Chicago Council of Lawyers website.

Click to view the Chicago Bar Association full evaluations.

Click here to view the Chicago Bar Association two-page “Pocket Guide,

Here is the link to evaluations of all 11 Alliance bar associations are published in a “grid” providing only the evaluation grade.
 
If you review all of these materials diligently, congratulations you are among the most informed voters!  However, sometimes more information makes things clear, other times things get muddled.  You will notice there are very few candidates upon whom all Bar Associations agree.  Should we just count up the “not” grades and the “highly/well” grades?  More fundamentally, why do the bar associations disagree on which candidates are the best, worst, and in between?

There is no clear answer on which collection of qualifications, life experiences and characteristics will make the best judge.  One person might prefer a candidate who has worked for decades as a prosecutor; others might prefer a public defender.  Some might prefer candidates who have never worked in government at all.  Some voters might be more interested in the community and charitable activities to get a sense of the values one might associate with those activities.  Some voters might take their cues from their political leanings: candidates slated by the Regular Democratic Party organization, candidates endorsed by IVI-IPO, candidates endorsed by individual political leaders with similar interests and values.  You will not learn any of this from the grades, the grid or even the more detailed CBA and CCL evaluations.

Wouldn’t it be great to just see and hear these judicial candidates who may have so much power over our lives talk about their background and qualifications?  It has been somewhere between difficult and impossible to do this in the past, but this year most of the candidates you will see on the ballot have appeared for interviews on the North Town News Magazine show.  You can find most of the interviews by clicking on the ntmn website.


Some of the interviews might be easier to find on YouTube by putting the candidate name in the search bar, where you may come up with something like this one.

One last source which is not available at this writing will be what has been promised as the most comprehensive publication on judicial elections ever attempted by Jewish Chicago magazine.  It should be available soon at www.avyworld.com


It sure sounds like a lot of work, but I hope many of you will find it worthwhile to put the effort into learning more about the people who want to become judges before you enter the voting booth – and before you enter their courtrooms!

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