Illinois state Rep. Charlie Meier filed a bill Thursday that would force judges to run for retention rather than re-election.
Judges typically seek retention when their terms expire. A judge seeking retention must earn approval by 60 percent of the voters.
Three St. Clair County circuit judges, Robert Haida, Robert LeChien and John Baricevic, have chosen to avoid retention and avoid the requirement to get 60 percent of voter approval and instead are running for election, which requires only getting more votes than an opponent. The election is November 2016.
“I feel strongly that the Illinois Constitution intended for elected judges seeking re-election to only have the option of retention,” Meier said. “The loophole these three judges have chosen to take advantage of certainly questions the integrity of the bench. It reminds me of musical chairs, however the music stops when these three judges say so.”
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This process was contemplated by the writers of the Constitution, Baricevic said, he denied that the judges’ actions exploited a “loophole.” He called the bill an attempt to grab a headline by Meier.
“We are subject to a review by the voters,” Baricevic said. “This is Constitutional. It’s ethical. And there is a precedent for it.”
Former St. Clair County Judge Lloyd Cueto also has used the tactic of seeking re-election rather than retention. He apparently was the first Illinois judge to do so. He filed to run for election in 2006. The Illinois Civil Justice League opposed the move.
“I guarantee it is not what the framers of the Illinois Constitution had in mind when they created the retention system for judges,” said John Pastruovic, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League. “It is clear that their intent was that judges, once they have served, should meet that higher standard of a 60 percent retention.”
Meier is a Republican from Okawville. The three judges are Democrats. The judges have said running for election rather than retention actually submits them to more voter scrutiny, both in a primary and the general election.
Meier said, “I think our judges should be held to a higher standard, which is why my bill seeks to codify Illinois law by permanently closing the musical chair loophole. If a judge wants to remain on the bench, then he or she will have to face the voters and receive approval from 60 percent of them.”
The judges’ actions allow for more scrutiny, not less, Baricevic said.
“But for my actions, Ron Duebbert would not be running for judge,” Baricevic said.
Without the constraints on judges commenting on legal issues, Baricevic said there can be real debate between candidates about the issues.
House Bill 4673 states that no judge or former judge may submit his or her candidacy for a vacancy in a judicial office by any method other than seeking retention in his or her office, unless that judge or former judge is seeking judicial office in a higher or lower court or he or she has not served as an elected or appointed judge for at least two years.
The Illinois State Board of Elections considered a complaint filed by Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook regarding the St. Clair County judges decision to avoid retention. The board deadlocked with a vote of 4-4, meaning the three judges will remain on the ballot. Meantime, the State Board of Elections has asked Attorney General Lisa Madigan for a legal opinion on the matter.