Metro-East News

Bench cleared: 5 Madison County judges and 1 from St. Clair voted out

In this file photo, St. Clair County Judge Laninya Cason gives instructions to students in her courtroom for a mock murder trial.
In this file photo, St. Clair County Judge Laninya Cason gives instructions to students in her courtroom for a mock murder trial. tvizer@bnd.com

One St. Clair County associate judge and five Madison County associate judges will be looking for new jobs come July 1.

The circuit judges who vote on whether to keep associate judges have voted out Laninya Cason, who serves on the bench in St. Clair County, and the following judges who serve in Madison County: Duane Bailey, Ben Beyers, Donald Flack, David Grounds and Elizabeth Levy.

Bailey and Beyers are the only two African-American judges on the bench in the 3rd Judicial Circuit, which is composed of Bond and Madison Counties.

Cason also is African-American. She’s the only associate judge who was not retained in the 20th Judicial Circuit, which covers St. Clair County. In recent years, Cason switched her party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.

Cason received a dismal score in the latest Illinois State Bar Association poll, a 45.83, in the overall category of “meets requirements of office.” In a recent interview, Cason said the poll of attorneys is a poor measure of a judge’s performance, and suggested that her party switch could be one factor for her score.

“I have been honored and blessed to have served the residents of St. Clair County with honor and integrity for 12 years,” Cason said Thursday. “My first priority has always been to be fair and impartial to the public I serve.”

None of the six received the required 60 percent of votes from the circuit judges to return to their jobs.

“I was surprised by the outcome,” said David Hylla, chief judge of the Third Judicial Circuit. “I will leave it at that.”

Statewide, only eight associate judges were not retained this year, while 376 were retained.

Bailey, who became a judge in 2007, said: “The first two years of my judicial experience were the best of my legal career. I remain disappointed by the outcome of the vote of the nine circuit judges. However, I prefer to go out on a high note and not spend much time concerning the plight of associate judges, specifically African-American associate judges.”

Grounds said: “I have considered it a privilege and an honor to serve as a judge in Madison County for the past 12 1/2 years. I have always been proud of the judiciary and continue to be so. My legal practice and my time on the bench have been the most fulfilling and rewarding of my life.”

Hylla will request that the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts announce the vacancies, then state statute gives 30 days to receive applications. The circuit judges will then have 14 days to cast their ballots for the new associate judges.

“Hopefully, the will vote be sooner rather than later,” Hylla said.

He expects Madison County will run five judges shy for at least the month of July. July and August have the fewest number of jury trials, Hylla said. Circuit judges and the 8 retained associate judges will double-up on dockets until the vacancies are filled.

“Quite frankly, I expect no delays in the handling of cases,” Hylla said. “That’s our goal.”

The 3rd Judicial Circuit has 9 circuit judgeships and 13 associate judgeships.

Circuit judges are elected by voters.

The eight associate judges who received enough votes to be retained in the 3rd Judicial Circuit are: Philip B. Alfeld, Clarence W. Harrison II, Martin J. Mengarelli, Ronald R. Slemer, Thomas Chapman, Janet Heflin, Neil T. Schroeder and Stephen A. Stobbs.

Circuit judges are elected to six-year terms. Associate judges are up for reappointment votes every four years.

In 2011, Ellar Duff, the first African-American judge in the circuit, lost her bid for reappointment as an associate judge.

The associate judges retained in the 20th Judicial Circuit are: Richard A. Aguire, Walter C. Brandon Jr., Thomas B. Cannady, Ellen A. Dauber, Julia R. Gomric, Eugene E. Gross, Julie K. Katz, Randall W. Kelley, Patricia H. Kievlan, Christopher T. Kolker, Stephen R. Rice and Heinz M. Rudolf.

2015 Illinois Bar Association Association Judge Reappointment Scores

Overall score of Meets Requirements of Office, including integrity, impartiality, legal ability, temperament, court management, health and sensitivity (maximum possible 100):

Duane Bailey: 71.93

Ben L. Beyers: II 65.36

Donald M. Flack: 79.64

David K. Grounds: 81.76

Elizabeth Levy: 76.28

Laninya Cason: 45.83

All except for Cason were recommended for reappointment.

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