Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chicago Criminal lawyer comments on the problem of electing judges

Sometimes this Chicago Criminal lawyer is disheartened. Unlike the United States Supreme Court Justices, Illinois Circuit Court judges are elected. Judicial candidates have to appeal to voters and have campaign supporters in order to win.

This has caused a distinct tension between the role of judicial candidates and what those successful candidates do once they are on the bench. In some instances, a judge will recuse herself. That means she removes herself from the case, perhaps because she has a personal relationship with one of the parties in the case. I've had a judge recuse herself for being related to the police officer who was the government's witness. Sometimes the issue can even be related to financial contributions made to the judge when the judge was a candidate.

The Brennan Center, along with co-counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to review Avery v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. The case involved an Illinois Supreme Court justice who declined to recuse himself, and then ruled for one of his biggest campaign contributors. The brief was filed on behalf of 12 organizations committed to ensuring fair and impartial courts.

The petition for review of Avery was the fallout from the most expensive state judicial campaign in United States history, the 2004 race for Illinois Supreme Court justice. Illinois Appellate Judge Gordon Maag and then-circuit Judge Lloyd Karmeier raised a total of approximately $9.3 million in political contributions nearly double the previous national record for a state judicial election. Karmeier, who received over $350,000 in direct contributions from State Farms employees, lawyers and others, and over $1 million more from groups of which State Farm was a member or to which it contributed, won both the fundraising battle and the election. Justice Karmeier then declined to recuse himself from Avery, which had been pending before the Illinois Supreme Court during the campaign. In the case, Justice Karmeier cast the decisive vote reversing a lower courts breach of contract verdict of over $450 million against State Farm.

On March 6, 2006 the Supreme Court declined to hear Avery.
Doing what's legally right, isn't going to always be popular with voters. It could even be seized upon and used by judicial opponents. I'm just not certain justice can be blind when you have to campaign to be a judge.

1 comment:

  1. Illinois has always been a breeding ground for corruption according to historians and experts in the field, and the system of electing circuit court judges possibly plays into this. It's no surprise that there is some angst built up among both sides, but hopefully they'll come to a reasonable solution. Just a thought from a criminal lawyer (Toronto), and locals in the Illinois area might have different opinions.