Metro-East News

Hearing examiner finds in favor of St. Clair County judges who rejected retention vote

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Vince Lopinot, left, shakes hands with Chief Judge John Baricevic. Baricevic is one of three judges running for election rather than retention.
St. Clair County Circuit Judge Vince Lopinot, left, shakes hands with Chief Judge John Baricevic. Baricevic is one of three judges running for election rather than retention. dholtmann@bnd.com

Three St. Clair County judges who opted to run for election rather than retention should remain on the ballot, a state hearing examiner has recommended.

The recommendation concerns circuit judges John Baricevic, Robert Haida and Robert LeChien, all Democrats. Baricevic is the chief judge.

A 12-page finding by Springfield attorney David Herman to the Illinois State Board of Elections concludes, “Because the candidates’ statements of candidacy meet the requirements (of state law) and are substantially in the form required by that section, the hearing examiner recommends that the objections to the statements of candidacy be overruled.”

The state board will meet Wednesday and could decide whether to accept Herman’s finding or toss the judges off the general election ballot in November.

Because the candidates’ statements of candidacy meet the requirements (of state law) and are substantially in the form required by that section, the hearing examiner recommends that the objections to the statements of candidacy be overruled.

Hearing examiner David Herman

The recommendation states that while the election board is authorized to hear the challenges to the state constitution raised by Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook, who is a Republican candidate for county circuit clerk, the actual constitution contains no language barring a sitting judge from running in the general election, where victory is gained by a simple majority. A judge running for retention must garner 60 percent of the vote.

Baricevic is running for Haida’s position and Haida is running for Baricevic’s. LeChien will run for his own vacancy.

“It’s just one person’s opinion,” Cook said. “I am confident that the state board will do their job and reject these candidates. If they don’t, we are not going to stop until it goes all the way to the (state) supreme court.

Only Baricevic has commented about the election strategy while the process was playing out. He could not immediately be reached but has said in the past that running in the general election actually increases his exposure to the voters because he could have been forced to run in the primary and will run in the general election.

While Herman, the hearing examiner, wrote, “The parties have not provided any authority where the court directly addressed the ability of a sitting judge to seek election rather than retention in light of the language of the Illinois Constitution,” he cited a ruling by a federal judge that touched on the subject.

“If a judge is eligible to seek retention, he apparently need not do so,” according to a 1975 Northern District of Illinois federal court case involving an election question involving a different question where the history of the case touched on retention elections.

In the ruling, Justice Prentice Marshall contended that if a sitting judge rejected running for retention, “He could run for re-election, which requires only a plurality of the vote.”

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk

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