Time for a bet­ter way to elect judges

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - Herb Ca­plan, re­tired at­tor­ney, Lake View

Vot­ers have once again gone through the cha­rade of vot­ing for judges. There were 54 names on the ju­di­cial re­ten­tion bal­lot. Is there any­one, other than some lawyers and lit­i­gants (and their friends and neigh­bors), who might have ap­peared be­fore any of these judges and thus have use­ful in­for­ma­tion or knowl­edge about their record, im­par­tial­ity, hon­esty, de­meanor, qual­i­fi­ca­tions, or even their age and cur­rent phys­i­cal con­di­tion?

Ex­cept for cit­i­zen­ship, bar ad­mis­sion and lo­cal res­i­dency, the Illi­nois Con­sti­tu­tion and laws do not set any stan­dards for ex­pe­ri­ence and pro­fes­sional ac­com­plish­ment to be a judge. In Cook County, a po­lit­i­cal la­bel and par­ti­san slat­ing are the path­way to a judge­ship and re­ten­tion.

How many vot­ers had the pa­tience, the stamina, or the de­sire to con­sci­en­tiously mark the bal­lot line by line for those 54 largely un­known peo­ple? For many, it was most likely just a game of iden­ti­fy­ing their race, eth­nic­ity or reli­gion by their names, then choos­ing who to iden­tify with.

Ide­ally, ju­di­cial can­di­dates and judges up for re­ten­tion should be cho­sen in a sep­a­rate ju­di­cial elec­tion with­out any sug­ges­tion of po­lit­i­cal party iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. The num­ber of names on the ju­di­cial bal­lot at any one time should be sig­nif­i­cantly limited, and no­tice of the elec­tion should al­ways in­clude a use­ful short bi­og­ra­phy and cur­ricu­lum vi­tae of the can­di­dates, pre­pared by the At­tor­ney Reg­is­tra­tion and Dis­ci­plinary Com­mis­sion.

When the 1970 Illi­nois Con­sti­tu­tion was sub­mit­ted to the vot­ers, it in­cluded the op­tions of ad­min­is­tra­tive screen­ing and ap­point­ment of judges or se­lec­tion by gen­eral elec­tion. Per­haps it is time to re­con­sider those choices and adopt a bet­ter sys­tem.

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