Candidate profile: Katherine Ruocco

Name: Katherine Ruocco

Office seeking: Circuit Judge of the 20th Judicial Circuit

Party: Republican

Age: 51

City of residence: Swansea

Campaign website: www.RuoccoForJudge.com

Why are you running and why should people vote for you? I’m running for a more fair and independent judiciary and keeping politics out of the courtroom. In doing so, I hope public confidence will be restored. I have a proven track record of standing up for “We the People” who are often forgotten in Illinois government. I’ve been practicing for 15 years in nearly every practice area, representing both plaintiffs and defendants, and have extensive courtroom experience. I’ve served as VA Accredited Attorney (since 2008), Swansea Trustee, legal resource for organizations advocating for seniors/people w/disabilities/veterans, legal reference material author, guardian/conservator for incapacitated veterans, and work with the court/social service agencies to protect our most vulnerable. I believe our court has become highly partisan and this must change. Most of our Circuit Judges first reach the bench by Associate Judge appointment, run for Circuit Judge, and then hand select the next Associate Judges. Access to the bench is controlled by these judges, warchests of the trial bar who appear before them, and a non-profit’s voluntary survey of highly partisan attorneys, making effort to control bench access. The status quo must change. My opponent remains on the bench regardless of the election outcome. I’m the only chance for change in this race.

What is your judicial philosophy? I believe in judicial restraint versus that of judicial activism. It’s a judge’s duty to apply the relevant law as written, to the facts of the case, considering the admissible evidence, and arrive at a decision. Judges should not make effort to enact social or political change from the bench. No personal, political, social, or any other influences should enter into the judicial decision making process. Courts are to interpret the law and should not legislate new policy. In the process of understanding and interpreting the law, a judge needs to be wholly fair and impartial, and respectful to all parties. A judge is not an advocate for either party. Further, there should be no impropriety or appearance of impropriety. Although it seems to be a common practice in the 20th Judicial Circuit for attorneys who’ve donated to judicial campaigns, to appear in front of these same judges, I believe this practice imposes an appearance of impropriety. How would a litigant feel if they knew that the opposing party’s attorney was the judge’s campaign contributor? To avoid any possibility of presiding over cases of a campaign contributor, I’m completely self-funding my judicial campaign and am not accepting campaign contributions.

If you were facing a Judicial Inquiry Board investigation, would you resign? Why or why not? In the 15 years I have practiced law I’ve never been the subject of any disciplinary action and have always worked hard to not just be compliant with the rules that govern us as individuals and my profession, but to lead by example. I see it as very unlikely that I would be the subject of a Judicial Inquiry Board investigation. However, it is important to note that one of the most valued principles in our justice system is that one is deemed innocent until proven guilty. A complaint or allegation is an inquiry into one’s conduct, and it’s the initiating act which causes an investigation, and subsequent determination of guilt or innocence to follow. It’s my belief that a subject of a Judicial Inquiry Board complaint should be afforded the right to have their complaint fully investigated and adjudicated.

What types of cases would you hope to work on and why? Given my nearly 15 years of practicing law in many areas and having extensive practice experience, I could effectively serve in whatever area that I am assigned. However, justice is evenhanded only when there is equal access to the law. There are certain groups of individuals that sometimes have more difficulty than others in accessing effective legal counsel and representation, such as the elderly, children, the special needs community, and the indigent. If the opportunity arose I would like to work with these groups and help ensure that they receive the proper treatment, dignity, and justice that they are entitled to receive.

The St. Clair County judiciary has been the source of some scandal in recent history. St. Clair County Judge Michael Cook, a Democrat, was convicted of heroin possession. St. Clair County Judge Ronald Duebbert, a Republican, faced sex and intimidation charges, but those were dismissed. What could you offer to the voters to ensure that you, if elected, would not bring more scrutiny to the bench? Honesty, integrity, hard work, and perseverance are basic tenets of my lifestyle. Through use of grants and student loans, I worked my way through undergraduate, graduate, and law school, with children, while working full-time, and with part of this time as a single mother. I was taught from a young age that honesty, integrity, service to others, and keeping promises is highly important. I have a track record of practicing these values. I’m not afraid to stand up for what’s right, challenge the status quo, and I’ve demonstrated this repeatedly. If elected, I wouldn’t succumb to political pressure and would be the first person to call out anyone who does. Further, I’d like to establish a drug testing program for our judges. This still hasn’t occurred, despite the recent drug scandal in the courthouse. Judges are in a unique position where their decisions and judgment has far reaching implications affecting our future. We must be certain our judges are acting with clear mind and are free from influences that would compromise the integrity of judicial decisions. Ensuring that our judges aren’t compromised by drug use is critical to safeguard the integrity and fairness in our Court.