Metro-East News

Who will appeals court side with in St. Clair County judges case?

Chief Judge John Baricevic and two others are running for election instead of retention.
Chief Judge John Baricevic and two others are running for election instead of retention. File photo

Oral arguments were presented Tuesday before the state Fourth Appellate Court in the matter of three St. Clair County judges who opted to run in the less rigorous general election in November rather than run for retention.

The arguments followed themes previously presented to the State Election Board and the Sangamon County Circuit Court.

The appeals court did not immediately rule on the case.

St. Louis attorney Aaron Weishaar represented Belleville City Clerk Dallas Cook, who has filed suit in an attempt to remove Circuit Judges John Baricevic, Robert Haida and Robert LeChien, all Democrats, from the ballot on constitutional grounds.

The judges filed letters with the Illinois Supreme Court stating their intentions of retiring in December, and then filed for the election to run in a vacancy each created by retirement.

Chicago attorney Michael Kasper represented the judges, who were not present, in his argument that as long as his clients were attorneys and lived in the jurisdiction of where they chose to run for judge, the state constitution did not preclude them from rejecting the usual retention election, where 60 percent of the vote is required, and choosing instead to run in the general election where a margin of a single vote can mean victory.

Kasper won favorable decisions for the judges during hearings before the election board and the circuit court.

Cook, who attended the 90-minute hearing, said the justices asked his attorney five questions but did not question Kasper. He said if he loses the appeal, “We’ll go right across the street for sure,” meaning an appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The idea of judges resigning their own positions to run for election rather than retention is outrageous. Judges should be held to a higher standard of ethics and fairness,” the group said.

Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch

Baricevic has said that by running in the general election, each judge actually exposes himself twice to the voters, a reference to the primary election and the balloting in November. He said also that running in the general election allows him to speak out more about issues that affect the judiciary and makes it certain that the people will choose their judge.

In a retention election, if the 60 percent threshold isn’t met, then a member of the state Supreme Court would choose a judge until the next election could be held. In the case of St. Clair County’s 20th Judicial Circuit, Republican Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier would choose a temporary judge.

Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, a non-profit organization, issued a statement after the hearing that argued that whatever the decision, “the outcome of this case will have a far-reaching impact. ...

“The idea of judges resigning their own positions to run for election rather than retention is outrageous. Judges should be held to a higher standard of ethics and fairness,” the group said.

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk

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