A runoff election will determine who takes the bench in Madison County, as more than 40 people vied to replace the five judges who were removed a few months ago.
None of the applicants for the five vacant associate judgeships received a sufficient majority of votes to be confirmed. But 11 of the applicants have received enough votes to advance to a runoff election.
Five associate judges in Madison County lost their seats when they failed to receive 60 percent of the retention votes cast by the circuit judges in June. Judges Duane Bailey, Ben Beyers, Donald Flack, David Grounds and Elizabeth Levy all applied to be reinstated, along with dozens of others who put in their applications for the bench. The circuit judges received their ballots two weeks ago, along with biographies of the 46 candidates.
However, none of the candidates received a sufficient majority to be confirmed. Thus, a runoff election will be held with the top 11 candidates, and the circuit judges again will have to choose, this time from a shorter list. Ordinarily the runoff ballot would have 10 candidates, or double the number of empty seats, but extra names are included in the case of a tie.
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Chief Judge David Hylla said the circuit judges will have two weeks to vote, although he pointed out the voting is optional. “It’s not mandatory, but I would hope everybody does,” he said.
Once the runoff ballots are tallied, the seats will go to the top five candidates whether or not they have received the majority, or five of the nine votes. “We could be voting forever waiting for someone to get five votes,” Hylla said. “It seems to promote a quicker filling of the vacancies.”
However, if there is a tie on the runoff ballot, Hylla said, there is a third round - and this time it reverts back to the original rules with a five-vote requirement. “Say, if four people clearly get more votes than the others, but in the fifth spot there are three people with the same number of votes,” he said. “Then we have another runoff, but it goes back to the majority requirement... Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that.”
In 3rd Judicial Circuit, which covers Madison and Bond counties, there are nine circuit judges who are elected by the general public, and 13 associate judges who are elected by the circuit judges. Associate judges need a 60 percent vote to be retained, but only a majority to be placed on the bench.
Beyers, Flack and Levy each made the short list to be reinstated. The other candidates who made the short list are: Christopher J.T. Bauer, Timothy Berkley, Rodney Caffey, Jennifer Hightower, Allyson Romani, Maureen Schuette, Luther Simmons and Sarah D. Smith.
In the meantime, the 3rd Judicial Circuit is running smoothly, Hylla said. “I can’t monitor every docket, but I have received zero complains from the bar or any litigants about delays because of fewer judges,” Hylla said. “Everyone is pitching in and getting things done.”
Hylla said it helps that summer is a slower time for court dockets, because there are fewer jury trials scheduled and it’s less hectic. “But the full trial dockets gear back up in September,” he said. “Let’s hope we get these seats filled by then.”
Circuit judges are elected every six years, and vote on appointment and retention of the associate judges every four years. According to Rule 39 of Illinois Supreme Court rules, associate judges must be licensed attorneys, U.S. citizens and residents of the area included in the judicial circuit. The circuit judges each voted for five candidates. A simple majority determines who receives the judgeship, but with so many applicants, it’s possible that no candidate receives a majority. According to the rules, then, a runoff ballot is created.
Statewide, only eight associate judges were not retained this year, while 376 were retained.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 618-239-2507.