Reconsidering Judicial Retention in Illinois

Illinois State Capitol, Photo by Daniel Schwen

Photo by Daniel Schwen

On Friday, Illinois State Representative Kelly Cassidy introduced a bill to amend the Illinois Constitution with regard to the retention of sitting judges. Rep. Cassidy’s bill would create a “Judicial Retention Commission in each Judicial District to evaluate the qualifications of Supreme and Appellate Court Judges seeking retention” as well as “a Judicial Retention Commission in each Judicial Circuit to determine the qualification for Judges for retention in the Circuit.” The bill also “provides for the impaneling of additional Judicial Retention Commissions in a Circuit if more than 40 Judges have filed a declaration of candidacy for retention.” The Amendment would mean that that Judges found qualified are retained in office, but those found unqualified by the Commissions could choose to seek retention in retention elections.

The bill arrives just as Judge Cynthia Brim, who was retained in the November election, proceeds to trial on misdemeanor battery charges. Judge Brim is expected to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity to charges stemming from a March 2012 altercation with a Cook County Sheriff’s deputy at the Daley Center.  Nine of the ten members of the Alliance of Bar Associations (.pdf) did not recommend Judge Brim for retention. Neither did the Chicago Bar Association (.pdf). The Judicial Performance Commission of Cook County (.pdf)—which does not issue voter recommendations—found that Judge Brim (.pdf) is reported to be having significant difficulties in the areas of legal ability, diligence and temperament that seriously impede her effectiveness as a jurist. A judicial performance improvement plan is indicated. The Commission recommended court-watching; peer mentoring; anger management; continuing education courses on managing high-volume court calls and re-evaluation within three years for Judge Brim.

Despite these evaluations and a number of editorials concerning Judge Brim, who was suspended from the bench at the time of the November election, she was retained in her office with a mere 60.48% yes votes in the City of Chicago and only 39.52% yes votes in suburban Cook County.

It appears that now is the time to reconsider how we elect and retain judges in Illinois. Chicago Appleseed fully supports efforts to improve the quality of our sitting judges and to provide meaningful oversight to the selection, election and retention of Judges in Cook County and across the state.

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