Monday, December 10, 2007

It's Quiz Time For Illinois Judicial Candidates

Almost 200 candidates for judicial offices in Illinois will be receiving the Illinois Civil Justice League's Judicial Candidate Questionnaire today and tomorrow. The candidates are seeking election to one of the 63 judicial vacancies that are on the Illinois ballot in 2008. For 37 of the candidates, as we described two weeks ago, "Election Day" is actually February 5, the date of the Illinois Primary Election. Those 37 primary winners will be unopposed in November and thus can begin planning for a move to a new office -- or Chamber -- as judicial offices are generally called.

One candidate, Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke, doesn't even have to worry about the primary. She is unopposed in the primary and unopposed in the General Election so the former appellate justice who was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Mary Ann McMorrow can look forward to ten more years of doing what she is doing right now. If she stays for that long (she's 63 now), she would likely assume the office of Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court sometime late in her term.

While there are a handful of other races, all at the Circuit Court level, in which candidates are unopposed, most will have opposition at least in the primary and in some situations, in the primary and General Election.

We expect candidates to begin returning their questionnaires within about two weeks and we have asked them to respond no later than January 5 so we can post their responses on our Judicial Candidates website, which can be found at www.IllinoisJudges.net. The site is in transition right now between 2006 and 2008 but it is current concerning judicial candidates for 2008 and it will include comprehensive information about all judicial candidates, whether they respond to the ICJL survey or not.

Most will respond. We have made it clear to all candidates that the information on the Illinois Judges website is straightforward and objective. We will include information they provide to us, unedited (except for correction of obvious misspellings or grammatical mistakes).

We also will include links to their websites, links to their campaign finance reports, newspaper or bar association endorsements of their campaigns, and statements of rebuttal if the ICJL endorses an opposing candidate.

Since ICJL began this service, more than 65% of the judicial candidates have responded. They included almost all of the candidates for the Supreme Court of Illinois, in both parties. Gordon Maag, candidate in the Fifth Judicial District in 2004 did respond but Justice Thomas Kilbride, candidate in the Third District in 2000, did not. Kilbride did express some of his views in a late letter to the ICJL.

This questionnaire has not changed substantially through the years. It has been carefully reviewed and minor tweaks have been made. Among the reviewers have been at least four sitting judges and leaders of several prominent lawyer organizations.

So here are the questions, and the answers will be posted in a few weeks.

ICJL 2008 Judicial Candidate Questionnaire

1. What steps do/would you, as an elected judge, take to maintain your independence from campaign contributors and special interest groups? Do you impose any limits beyond those required by law on contributions?

2. Illinois currently has a mixed system of selecting judges. Most are elected by voters, some are appointed to fill vacancies, and others (associates) are selected by other judges. Is this the best way to select judges and to ensure the highest quality judiciary? Are there specific reforms in the judicial selection process that you would like to see? What are the pros and cons of merit selection of judges vs. election? Should sitting judges run for re-election rather than retention?

3. What would you say to a frustrated voter faced with a ballot with dozens of judicial candidates, almost all of whom are unknown to the voter, about how to cast an informed ballot?

4. Has the recent Supreme Court decision on the First Amendment rights of judicial candidates altered your views on and/or approach to “campaigning” for judicial office?

5. In close cases, judges (particularly appellate judges) often have choices to make as to the direction in which they believe the law should go. In those circumstances, some of the greatest judges have been activists, others have practiced restraint, and others have followed no particular philosophy about the place of the judiciary in our system of separate branches sharing power. Which of these approaches/philosophies best captures your views of the proper role of judges in society?

6. It is often said that because the judiciary neither commands the sword nor the purse, its power and legitimacy rest on the persuasiveness of its opinions. Yet a large number of cases -- even cases worth large sums of money and presenting significant and/or novel legal issues -- are resolved in the Circuit Courts of Illinois through the issuance of one line orders that fail to give even an inkling of the Court's reasoning. Do you see this as a problem for the judiciary? If so, do you have any ideas on how to remedy the problem? How should orders – particularly those subject to appeal – be written? As a prospective circuit judge, do you believe the parties are entitled to the basis of your ruling including the findings of fact and your application of the law to those findings of fact? If an appellate candidate, please offer your thoughts.

7. Recently proponents of “Sunshine in Litigation” have sought legislation to eliminate or severely restrict the judicial entry of protective orders in litigation between private parties involving products that may be considered dangerous to the public. Opponents of these efforts argue that protective orders are necessary to ensure privacy, protect trade secrets and foster settlements. What is your view of the role which protective orders serve in the efficient resolution of private litigation? Do you agree that judges should have broad discretion to enter such orders when appropriate? How would you respond to each side of the debate?

8. Are there civil litigation reforms that you would like to see enacted to remedy particular problems that you have detected, either as a practicing lawyer or as a sitting judge? Are there reforms that would benefit the civil justice system? What needs to be changed? Should the enactment of any such changes be the province of the legislature, the Supreme Court or by Constitutional amendment?

9. Do you feel that our judicial system adequately deters and penalizes frivolous litigation? If not, what reforms would you like to see?

10. Do you believe the Illinois Constitution precludes legislative establishment of limitations on civil damages? Are there or should there be distinctions among economic, non-economic and punitive damages?

11. The so-called “English Rule,” where the loser pays, seems to be a popular concept among Illinois citizens. Do you believe that a “loser pays” requirement in civil cases would help reduce the number of frivolous civil lawsuits filed in Illinois? Are there reasons why Illinois should/should not consider such a rule?

-- Ed Murnane
Illinois Civil Justice League
December 10, 2007

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