Robert Romanik, a local radio show host and a Republican candidate for the Illinois House of Representatives, has filed complaints with the state Judicial Inquiry Board concerning the candidacy of three St. Clair County circuit judges in the 2016 election.
According to a copy of the complaints, which contained the same allegations for John Baricevic, Robert Haida and Robert LeChien, the three are violating requirements of the state constitution by running for re-election rather than retention.
The board, which can exonerate, discipline and remove a judge, has a strict policy of not commenting as to whether a complaint has been filed or whether it will be investigated. If official action is eventually taken state law mandates that it be made public.
However, Romanik provided not only copies of the complaints but also receipts that show that on Dec. 23 a “Vincent Phillip” signed a certified mail receipt accepting Romanik’s complaints. A state directory lists Vincent Phillip as an administrative assistant for the Judicial Inquiry Board.
All three judges have resigned their positions effective in December 2016 at the end of their current terms, but have rejected running in a retention election without an opponent where, according to the Illinois Constitution, each must obtain an approval vote from at least 60 percent of voters in the 20th Judicial Circuit.
Instead, each has filed to run in the general election where he needs to win by only a single vote. Baricevic filed for Haida’s seat and Haida filed for Baricevic’s seat. LeChien will run to succeed himself.
In the complaints to the state board, Romanik contended that the constitution requires that a circuit judge run for retention after having been elected in the general election to the bench, or retire for good.
“Any other reading of the Constitution (is) non-sensical and mere surplus wording. If (the judges are) allowed to violate the constitution by allegedly retiring when (they) are not retiring, and then run for contested election, then our Illinois Constitution has no meaning,” Romanik’s complaint stated.
Any other reading of the Constitution (is) non-sensical and mere surplus wording. If (the judges are) allowed to violate the constitution by allegedly retiring when (they) are not retiring, and then run for contested election, then our Illinois Constitution has no meaning.
Excerpt from Romanik’s complaint
Romanik, the self-proclaimed “Grim Reaper of Radio” on station KQQZ, has long been sharply critical of St. Clair County Democratic office-holders; all three judges are Democrats.
While he has challenged Baricevic on the air to call the radio show and defend himself, rules of the Illinois Supreme Court prevent sitting judges from commenting publicly except in very narrow circumstances. Romanik formed the independent political “Freedom Coalition” party and has financially backed candidates in local elections.
Dallas Cook, whose father is former Belleville mayor Roger Cook is a member of the Freedom Coalition, has filed objections to the judges’ candidacies that are scheduled for oral argument at 11 a.m. Monday before the State Board of Elections. Dallas Cook, the elected Belleville city clerk and a Republican candidate for county circuit clerk, filed motions contending that by avoiding the retention election, Baricevic, Haida and LeChien are “circumventing what is intended by the Illinois Constitution.”
Michael Kaspar, a Chicago attorney who successfully defended Mayor Rahm Emanuel against an election challenge, has filed legal responses to the motions filed by attorneys for Cook. He declined to make them public to the News-Democrat prior to a state board hearing.
Baricevic is the only one of the three judges who has made public comments concerning his decision to run in the general election instead of for retention. Baricevic told the BND that by running in the general election, he exposes himself twice to votes — one in the primary and again in November. He said by using this tactic he will be able to comment more openly about judicial matters than if he was running for retention.
George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk