She’s been a judge for 12 years and has always received the lowest rating in an annual Illinois State Bar Association poll. St. Clair County Associate Judge LaNinya Cason said ever since she took the bench in 2003 she has had a tenuous relationship with the St. Clair County bar.
She said the rankings are based on politics, not ability. “Politics should not have any bearing on how I do my job. Everybody is here to be fair and impartial.”
“For some unknown reason, I received a rating of 62 percent in 2003 after having only been on the bench for two months. I don’t know whether it was because I was young and African-American and not in the government sector. I don’t know what issues they had with me. I was doing my job. No one has ever explained to me what the reasoning was,” she said.
In the latest poll, released recently, Cason received a rating of 45.83 in the category of “meets requirements of office.” Of the 13 associate judges in the 20th circuit, only Cason was not recommended for retention.
“Once I started making some progress with my relationship with the bar, I switched parties. It’s been even more downhill since then,” she said. Cason ran for a full circuit judge in 2012 as a Republican and was defeated by Democrat Zina Cruse.
“In 2011 my rating was 71 percent. In 2012, when I ran as a Republican, my rating went to the lowest it has ever been. There are about 95 attorneys in St. Clair County who more than likely I have never seen. How could they vote this way about me?” Cason asked.
The annual poll is sponsored by the Illinois State Bar Association. It is sent out to all of the attorneys in St. Clair County who are members of the ISBA.
Cason said it appears that those who voted her down are trying to discredit her career. Cason said when she switched party affiliations, she rattled some politicians, but she insists she is capable of and has always done a good job as a member of the bench.
“With me being black and from East St. Louis, a lot of people felt offended when I switched parties. But, when I pass by the building where Schnucks use to be on 25th and State Street, I don’t think any black person is worried about Democrat or Republican. It brings me to tears. Party affiliation is irrelevant to the notion of justice and equality,” she said.
Cason , 44, is a 1996 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law. She holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Illinois and a bachelor of science in finance from the University of Illinois
With those qualifications, she quipped: “You mean to tell me I am the dumbest judge up there. Really?”
Overall, Eugene E. Gross received a rating of 99.15; Julia Gomric, 97.42; Stephen R. Rice, 97.25; Heinz Rudolph, 95.91; Christopher T. Kolker and Julie K. Katz, both 98.92.
▪ In the category of Meets Requirements of Office, Richard Aguirre received 84.91; Patricia Kievlan, 91.60; Walter C. Brandon, 86.82; Ellen Dauber, 90.6, and Randall Kelley, 92.47.
▪ In the category of Integrity, everyone received scores in the 90s except Cason, who received a 61.40.
▪ For impartiality, all of the judges received ratings in the 80s and 90s except Cason, 63.31.
▪ For legal ability, Cason received 49.12 and Brandon received 78.46. For temperament, Aguirre received 71.90 and Cason received 70.59. Everyone else received 80s and high 90s.
▪ For court management, everyone received high 90s ratings and Kolker received a 100. Cason received 56.80.
▪ For health, everyone received high 90s or 100 while Cason received 78.24. Under sensitivity, everyone received high 90s while Cason received 73.81.
“I’ve handled the East St. Louis docket for the last three years and I guarantee you that I have only seen 10 attorneys. How this evaluation of me is fair, it’s just not real,” she said.
One of the questions is have you ever appeared before Judge Cason? Seventy-five percent of the attorneys participating in the poll indicated they have not.
The poll is anonymous. A spokesman for the Illinois State Bar Association was not available to comment.
St. Clair County Chief Judge John Baricevic said the poll is not that of the local judges. “We don’t make the ratings,” he said.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.