Name: John J. O’Gara
Office seeking: Circuit Judge, Vacancy of Vincent J. Lopinot
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City of residence: Belleville
Campaign website: www.OGaraforJudge.com
Why are you running and why should people vote for you? This is my first run for public office, the only I ever wanted to hold. I hope to use my experience and strive to insure that all people are treated fairly by the courts.
The background, variety, depth and quality of my experiences uniquely qualifies me to serve.
Leadership- Past President St. Clair County Bar and Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, current Vice President East St. Louis Bar Association, Board- Catholic Urban Programs.
Dedication to the law- Criminal Justice Council and the Bench and Bar Council Illinois State Bar Association.
Legal ability- instructed numerous lawyers and judges on professional and ethical issues.
Trust - legal and general community- 2015- St. Clair County Bar Association Hudlin Award, awarded to lawyers who “most reflect the commitment to service and charity to the people and epitomizes the best aspects of the legal community.” 2016- Faith in the Marketplace Award the Messenger- Diocese of Belleville, to those “recognized by their faith and ethical behavior in their chosen profession”. Distinguished Alumnus, Althoff Catholic High School 2016.
Illinois State Bar Association Advisory Judicial Poll of local lawyers 96.83% met the requirements of the office- and RECOMMENDED. Highest percentage in Southern Illinois in contested races.
What is your judicial philosophy? I am a great fan of the book and movie “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In his closing argument for Tom Robinson, Atticus Finch describes the core of my judicial philosophy:
“In this country, the courts are the great levelers. In our courts all men are created equal. I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in our jury system. That’s no ideal to me, it is a living, working REALITY.”
I also have a quote in my courtroom on my bench from Maya Angelou which reminds me daily, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I am entrusted with making sure that everyone, regardless of who they are, receives a fair hearing and deserves respect and courtesy from the Court.
If you were facing a Judicial Inquiry Board investigation, would you resign? Why or why not? Any judge subject to a complaint from the Judicial Inquiry Board is facing a very serious, extraordinary matter. The Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 62-Canon 2 notes that, “A judge should respect and comply with the law and should conduct himself or herself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” If a judge’s knowing, willful conduct has so eroded the public’s confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, or of that particular judge, the judge should consider resigning.
What types of cases would you hope to work on and why? Serving in any courtroom as a judge is a privilege and I welcome any assignment. Because of my career, especially because I was involved in many trials, and particularly jury trials, I would like to someday be placed in a courtroom which features jury trials, either criminal or civil cases.
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? I can point to my life up to now, my community involvement, that I have been well known throughout my legal career and I think I have been liked, trusted and respected by my peers and neighbors. I have been married for 26 years, and my wife and I have two adult daughters. I am an active member for decades in Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Belleville. Beyond my life, I respect the office of Circuit Judge immensely. I would never want to do anything to erode the fragile public trust and confidence in the judiciary that we have struggled to regain over these years.