EAST ST. LOUIS — There will be no African-American sitting in any of the three vacant associate judge seats in the 20th Judicial Circuit.
Two seats have already been filled, it was announced late Wednesday, and the third will be filled in a runoff between Julie Gomric and Patricia Kievlan, the next two highest vote-getters in the recent balloting. Both are white.
One of the two will be named to the remaining associate judgeship early next week, according to Chief Judge John Baricevic.
In the meantime, three of the 29 candidates who applied for an associate judgeship are black, but will not be chosen. Stanley Franklin, president of the East St. Louis chapter of the NAACP, said that is "disappointing." "We are disappointed that no African-Americans were chosen for an associate judgeship position," he said.
Franklin said more of an effort should be made to make sure that qualified black candidates are found.
"We feel the chief judge and the circuit judges should become proactive and consult with the St. Clair County Bar association and major law firms to recruit African-American lawyers into St. Clair County and train them and prepare then to become associate judges. There's a problem here and I am offering a solution," Franklin said.
The court announced that the other two positions went to Joseph D. Christ, a St. Clair County prosecutor, and Christopher T. Kolker, a Belleville attorney.
Mike Tardy, director of the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts, said there are 12 circuit judges and 13 authorized associate judgeships in the 20th circuit. The make up of race, age or gender is not tracked. "These are elected offices," he said.
Tardy said Supreme Court rules govern the appointment and reappointment of associate judges.
"An applicant has to submit his application to the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts in a timely manner (as specified by the office)," he said. "We certify the applications to the chief judge. The chief judge authorizes the ballots to be issued. We issue the ballots to the circuit judges and they vote in secret. We don't know whose ballot it is when we get it back. We tabulate the votes. The candidate who receives the most votes is the one who gets the seat. Since there are 12 circuit judges in the 20th judicial circuit, seven would be the highest."
Tardy, when asked when the last seat would be filled, said the ballots are in the process of being reissued, and he expects that one of the two who are in line for the last vacancy will be selected within 15 working days.
The News-Democrat obtained a letter from the Rev. Johnny Scott, former NAACP president, to Baricevic in which Scott pointed out how the recently vacated associated judge spot occupied by the newly elected Circuit Judge Zina Cruse has consistently been occupied by a black judge, dating back to jurist Billy Jones in the 1970s.
"I am proud that your judiciary has consistently maintained and supported a minority judge in that position. I am sure I do not have to impress upon you the significance of continuing to maintain the same, if not more diversity on the bench in our community," Scott wrote.
The letter said that Scott was supporting William Clay IV for the position.
Scott's letter said: "I am not daunted by the fact that Mr. Clay has practiced under 10 years. I ask you to refer to a few of the judges currently sitting in the 20th judicial circuit who were appointed after just as few or fewer years in practice."
Neither Clay nor the other two black applicants, Ethan Skaggs and Levander Smith, were elected by the circuit judges.
"I am consistent with the current NAACP president's statement. We would have liked to see all three of the vacancies go to the three very qualified African-American applicants. But, as an individual and a longtime civil rights advocate, I don't think it would have been too far out of the norm for one of the seats to go to a qualified African-American."
Scott said he is concerned that "we (blacks) are losing positions."
Baricevic said the seat is neither a black nor a white seat.
"It's not an African-American seat. It was held by African Americans and now it will be held by (someone else)," he said.
Scott said the NAACP is not a black or white organization. "It's a people organization. The people have a problem with a majority of the positions up there going to whites and the NAACP does, too," Scott said.
"We've been lacking in representation (blacks) in the court system and in county-wide elected positions. We have only one position," he said, referring to Circuit Clerk Kahala Dixon-Clay.
"We're ... certainly going to have to press the issue of race and cultural diversity as it relates to judgeship and other offices," East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks Jr. said.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.