A legal challenge filed in Sangamon County Circuit Court to the candidacies of three St. Clair County judges asks that the jurists be kicked off the November ballot because, “... Nothing in the Illinois Constitution ( or election law) gives a sitting judge a choice to decide whether he wants to run for retention or to run for re-election as if he was running for the first time.”
Judges who run for retention must obtain 60 percent of the vote, while those who run in the general election can win by a simple majority.
The eight-page “request for review” filed by St. Louis attorney Aaron Weishaar on behalf of Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook objects to the candidacies of Circuit Court Judges John Baricevic, Robert Haida and Robert LeChien. They have rejected the retention election and filed in November for the general election as Democrats.
In legal documents previously filed with the Illinois Board of Elections, Cook, a Republican and a candidate for St. Clair County circuit clerk, contends that this tactic circumvents the intention of the state constitution to take partisanship out of the judiciary by requiring a sitting judge to run for retention, ostensibly on his or her record.
Baricevic and Haida have said their decision to run in the general election guarantees that the voters choose their judges because if they ran for retention and lost, a member of the Illinois Supreme Court, most likely Justice Lloyd Karmeier, a Republican, would appoint a replacement. They have also said that it is more Democratic in that they faced the potential of two elections, the primary and the general. None of the candidates has a primary challenger.
Cook said if the legal review fails to remove the judges from the ballot, he will file an appeal with the high court and seek a decision on an expedited basis.
The State Board of Elections met Jan. 20 and deadlocked 4-4 on whether to accept a hearing officer’s report that concluded that the candidacies were legal under Illinois law. They voted 6-2 to ask for a non-binding legal opinion from the office of the Illinois attorney general, which could lead to another vote.
Even if the judges are removed from the ballot through election board or circuit court action, there is a possibility they could still run for re-election. They might be able to file as Democrats for the November general election because there are currently no primary challengers.
Weishaar’s request for legal review also argued that the 4-4 vote was improper because a proxy vote from one member did not include the proper paperwork. The attorney requested that the vote be revised to 4-3 and the hearing officer’s report rejected. A vote could then be held on whether to allow the candidacies to stand.
However, even if the judges are removed from the ballot through election board or circuit court action, there is a possibility they could still run for re-election.
Ken Menzel, the attorney to the State Board of Elections, said the judges might be able to file as Democrats because there are no primary challengers. For that to happen, new petitions would have to be filed. As “at large” circuit judges, Baricevic and Haida would have to circulate petitions that must be signed by at least 8,495 registered voters. As a “home” judge, LeChien would need 3,886 signatures.
But Menzel said while a 1990s state court decision may allow this, whether it can actually be done, “is not known.”
Menzel said that because they have resigned their current judgeships they cannot now file for retention even though the deadline for that isn’t until May.
“I don’t think they have the option of running for retention,” he said.
Still another avenue for getting onto the November election ballot is possible, Menzel said. That would be if they obtained the requisite number of signatures on nominating petitions and ran not as independents, which is prohibited by state law, but as members of a new political party that they formed on their own. That period for filing is June 20-27.