Metro-East News

Attorneys present arguments on both sides of election challenge for three St. Clair County judges

“It is irregular, but that doesn’t make it illegal,” said attorney Michael Kaspar during a state elections board hearing Monday where he represented three St. Clair County circuit judges who want to keep their jobs but have filed paperwork avoiding Illinois’ judicial retention election process that is part of the state’s constitution.

The judges —John Baricevic, Robert Haida and Robert LeChien — are all Democrats who have resigned, effective December 2016 and have also filed to run in the November general election. By following this path, the judges may face opposition but need win election by only a single vote instead of the 60 percent required by the retention process where a judge runs only on his record.

During oral arguments before hearing officer David Herman at the State Board of Elections, Kaspar, a Chicago attorney, said, “There is more Democracy in what these judges are providing for, not less,” referring to the fact that they are now subject to two elections, a primary and the general election.

Kaspar contended that the only questions that the state elections board has the authority to consider is whether each judge is qualified to run for the bench, meaning each is an attorney, a U.S. citizen and legally resides in the 20 Judicial Circuit. “The board has no authority to go beyond that,” he said.

But St. Louis attorney Aaron Weishaar, who represents Belleville City Clark Dallas Cook, who objected and wants the candidacy of the judges stricken from the ballot, avoiding the retention election, said, “This is clearly not what was intended or anticipated by the election laws of the state. ... It is a violation of Illinois law.”

Herman, the hearing officer, asked specific questions of both attorneys, taking notes and marking pages in a book containing the state’s election laws. His job is to make a recommendation and provide it to the members of the State Board of Elections, who will take up the matter at their regular meeting Jan. 20.

Weishaar conceded that the provisions of the Illinois State Constitution, did not contain the language “may only” run for retention. However, he contended that by interpreting the word “may” as allowing a judge to resign and run in the general election, “Is not what was intended or anticipated by the state constitution.”

Kaspar countered that while the constitution may not be specific in regards to retention elections, the remedy is “political,” meaning that inserting the words “may only” for instance, would have to be done by the state legislature and could not even be considered by the elections board.

Referring to Cook’s petitions to have the judges’ candidacies tossed out, Kaspar said none challenged the qualifications of the judges and therefore “... must be dismissed.”

Referring to the argument that the state constitution’s judicial retention petition was designed to take politics out of a judge’s job once he has been elected, Weishaar said, “They have injected themselves right back into partisan politics. ...They have achieved complete control of the election process.”

According to documents filed with the state board, Baricevic has filed to run for Haida’s seat, and Haida has filed to run for Baricevic’s seat. LeChien has filed to succeed himself.

If Cook’s objection is rejected by the state elections board, Weishaar said he will file a lawsuit in circuit court to have the judges removed from the ballot. He said the legal action will probably be filed in Cook County.

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk