About 10 people stood in 19-degree weather Tuesday a the St. Clair County Courthouse to protest the re-election strategies of three judges.
The protesters from a group called Citizens for Honest Judges carried signs saying “End the Monkey Court,” with images resembling the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” maxim.
The small rally outside of the St. Clair County Courthouse came one day before the State Board of Elections decides whether judges John Baricevic, Robert Lechien and Robert Haida can stay on the March primary ballot.
The three judges, all Democrats, are running for election, rather than retention. They say there’s nothing wrong with their strategy, and that it actually subjects them to more voter scrutiny.
The recommendation states the actual constitution contains no language barring a sitting judge from running in the general election.
Monday’s rally included Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook, a Republican who is running for St. Clair County circuit clerk. He inititally challenged whether the three judges should be allowed on the ballot.
Also in attendance was Cook’s father, Rodger Cook, a Republican running for St. Clair County Board chairman, and Republican County Board member Fred Boch.
“This is not a partisan issue, it’s a right-and-wrong issue,” Dallas Cook said.
Dallas Cook added if the State Board of Elections rules that Baricevic, Lechien and Haida can stay on the ballot, he plans to file a lawsuit in Circuit Court asking the state Supreme Court to intervene immediately.
“The people who wrote the constitution of the state of Illinois made it very clear, their intent was a judge having been elected, is to seek retention. That is the process. Never in their minds did they dream some judges would do this,” Dallas Cook said. “We cannot have judges who are political. When a judge is forced to run as a Democrat, once they’ve already been elected, we’ve brought politics back into our courthouse. The purpose of retention is for impartiality.”
Each of the three judges filed paperwork to retire in December, but run for election in November. In an election, the judges would need to simply gather more votes than challengers. But in a retention vote, the judges would need to get “yes” votes from at least 60 percent of voters.
If a judge does not receive 60 percent of the vote in a retention process, then the Supreme Court picks a replacement, and voters would not know who is coming in.
Baricevic said that running in the general election actually increases the judges’ exposure to the voters because they could face challenges in the primary and the general election. None of the three judges are opposed in the March Democratic primary.
In the November general election, Republican Ronald Duebbert is slated to run against Baricevic, and Republican Laninya Cason is slated to run against LeChien. Haida is presently unopposed.
Baricevic said running for election allows him to respond to any kind of attacks that may come his way leading up to a vote.
“Voters still get to vote,” Baricevic said. “What we want to do is be able to respond to legitimate concerns of voters, talk about our record, (and) give our record if they have questions.”
Under the retention process, judges could only say their credentials, but not participate in political party events, or endorsement events.
Baricevic said Citizens for Honest Judges is just a group of Republicans trying to unseat Democrats.
“They have been saying for a year, they’re going to beat us,” Baricevic said. “Why wouldn’t I want to be in a position where I can campaign against them ... If someone calls me a name, I want to be able to respond to those challenges.”
He said he thinks running for election, rather than retention, is more democratic.
“I want a full debate, I can’t have a full debate if I run for retention,” Baricevic said.
“If we’re going to be called names, if our integrity will be challenged ... we want to be able to respond,” Baricevic added.
Mary Thurman, coordinator of the Citzens for Honest Judges group, said most people don’t pay attention to how judges get their seats.
“These judges have tried to keep the power in the hands of their cronies and political partners, by tricking and deceiving the electorate,” Thurman said.
“The intent of the retention process is to de-politicize the judiciary,” Thurman added. “They have politicized it by taking this stand and doing this. It’s wrong.”
Thurman said if the three judges do stay on the ballot, her group plans to keep discussing the issue as the November general election approaches.
“If they get to stay on the ballot, they will still have to face the voters,” Thurman said. “The voters have the final say.”