The State Board of Elections deadlocked Wednesday 4 to 4 when voting on whether to accept a hearing officer’s finding that favored three St. Clair County judges who opted to run in the general election instead of a retention election, and voted 6-2 to send the matter on to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office for a legal opinion, according to Ken Menzel, attorney to the board.
“The positions were pretty firmly entrenched four to four,” Menzel said. “For the time being, the candidates will stay on the ballot.”
Any state agency can seek a legal opinion from the attorney general.
Dallas Cook, the Belleville city clerk and a Republican candidate for county circuit clerk, attended the meeting and later said, “Members who spoke out against this said it would set a bad precedent,” said Cook, who added that his next move is to file for “judicial review” in circuit court in either Cook or Sangamon counties. Menzel agreed that would be the next legal step for any objector.
“Their concern was that the (state) constitution was written specifically to reflect the concern that the judicial branch needed to remain as unpolitical as possible,” Cook said. “Judges are elected on a partisan basis. However, they are then supposed to run on their own record. These judges should be judged by the voters based upon their own record in a retention election.” Cook called the results “fantastic” and said, “We are going to win this.”
The judges are John Baricevic, Robert Haida and Robert LeChien, all Democrats. In November, they resigned effective in December and filed to run in the general election set for Nov. 8. None face a challenge in the March primary.
Cook called the results “fantastic” and said, “We are going to win this.”
Hearing examiner David Herman, a Springfield attorney, in a 12-page written finding recommended the elections board allow the judges to remain on the ballot because they have fulfilled the requirements of state law even though they have chosen the almost unheard of tactic of avoiding a retention election. Baricevic is running for Haida’s seat and Haida is running for Baricevic’s; LeChien is running to fill his own position.
In his recommendation, Herman cited a 35-year-old federal court case decided in Illinois where a judge commented that state law does not prevent a sitting judge from opting out of the retention election and running instead in the general election.
Baricevic has defended his decision to resign and run in the general election by stating that in so doing he faced a potential primary challenge as well as running in the general election giving voters more opportunity to vote for or against him.
Haida said Wednesday that he agrees with Baricevic’s assessment.
“The most important thing is that the people, the voters of the district, get to decide who their judges are,” Haida said. This was a reference to the Illinois Supreme Court rule that determines that if a sitting judge fails to get 60 percent of the vote in a retention election and is forced to step down, a member of the high court would choose a successor.
If that happened in the 20th Circuit, which consists of five counties including St. Clair County, Justice Lloyd Karmeier, a Republican, would likely be called upon to fill any vacancy caused by a failed retention bid.
“Our most important thing now to focus on is that we remain on the ballot,” Haida said.