Metro-East News

Ruling allows three St. Clair County judges to stay on ballot

File photo of John Baricevic
File photo of John Baricevic BND

A Sangamon County judge has ruled that three St. Clair County judges running for election rather than retention can stay on the ballot.

In the ruling by Associate Judge Esteban Sanchez, he denied Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook’s petition to get judges John Baricevic, Robert LeChien and Robert Haida thrown off the ballot. The judges chose to run for election by resigning their judgeships, effective in December, and then filing petitions to be on the November ballot.

If they had chosen to run for retention in the November election, they would have each needed 60 percent of voters voting in favor of retaining them. Now, they only need garner more votes than an opponent.

The state constitution says judges “may file” to run for retention. Cook’s position is that the phrase means judges can either run for retention, or leave the bench. The three judges maintain that the use of the word “may,” rather than “shall” or “must,” means retention is just one option for staying on the bench.

Cook said he plans to file an appeal as soon as he can, and hopes the state Supreme Court takes up the case in an expedited fashion.

Cook added he wasn’t surprised by the ruling.

“Even if we don’t hear before the primary, it doesn’t affect if they can be taken off the (general election) ballot,” Cook said.

In Sanchez’s ruling, the judge said Baricevic, LeChien and Haida are eligible to run for the vacancies they created.

“It is worth noting that if the framers of the (state) constitution wanted retention as the only choice for a sitting judge to remain in office at the end of his term, they could have said so,” Sanchez wrote. “They could have used the words ‘shall’ or ‘must.’ They did not. Instead they chose the world ‘may,’ which allows the judge the option to seek retention or to seek to remain in office by other methods, namely, election or appointment, as these are the only other two constitutionally approved methods of becoming a judge.”

Sanchez wrote that sitting judges participate in partisan elections when seeking higher judicial office, and there are judges who were appointed to a vacancy who are seeking to be elected to the vacancy for a full term.

It is worth noting that if the framers of the

Sangamon County Associate Judge Esteban Sanchez

“The framers may have established retention as their preferred method for sitting judges to remain in office after their term expired, but they clearly did not limit the judge’s choice to remain in office by participating in contested, partisan elections ... They could have easily done so and they did not,” Sanchez wrote.

Baricevic is running for Haida’s spot, and Haida is running for Baricevic’s spot. LeChien is running for the spot he currently holds.

Republican Ronald Duebbert of Belleville filed to run against Baricevic, while Republican Laninya Cason filed to run against LeChien.

A Republican candidate has not filed to run against Haida.

“The voters of the 20th Judicial Circuit will ultimately have a choice on primary and election day,” Sanchez wrote. “They will decide if they approve of the judge’s past judicial record and their conduct by casting their votes for or against the judge. The voters are not being denied the opportunity to exercise their rights for these judges.”

Baricevic said he agreed with the ruling from Sanchez and criticized Cook’s attempt to try to get the three judges thrown off the ballot by a judge in Sangamon County.

Baricevic questioned whether the local Republican Party was afraid their candidates would be unable to convince voters they were the best for the job.

“I continue to be amazed that Dallas Cook and the local Republican Party are the ones trying to game the system,” Baricevic said.

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