David Yates Aug. 6, 2014, 10:23am

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (Legal Newsline) – A state legal reform group has launched its 2014 judicial candidate evaluations, seeking to keep voters informed of the men and women who “can have a tremendous impact on the daily lives of the citizens of Illinois.”

Throughout last week, the Illinois Civil Justice League distributed surveys to 69 candidates for election. Surveys to the 158 sitting judges who are seeking retention in November will be sent this week.

“It’s very important people pay attention to judicial elections,” ICJL President Ed Murnane said. “Illinois is one of the few states that elects judges on a purely partisan basis.”

Murnane called the state’s partisan system “dangerous,” citing Cook County as an example where the disparity between Republicans and Democrats leads to only Democrats sitting on the bench.

Judicial candidates who respond to the survey will have their answers posted at IllinoisJudges.net. Candidates who decline to respond will be noted and publicized.

“The judicial system in Illinois is very ignored,” Murnane said. “Very few people pay attention and there is little to no competition. People don’t know who these judges are and what they stand for.”

Once a judge or justice is elected, it’s very rare they are ever voted out office, Murnane said.

In the Nov. 4 general election, candidates seeking retention must get approval - or "yes" votes - from 60 percent of those casting ballots on the retention question. Candidates in contested races must receive more votes than his or her opponent, as is the case in other races.

“This is probably one of the poorest judicial selection processes in the U.S.,” Murnane said. “Judges have a tremendous impact on the daily lives of the citizens of Illinois. They have the right to take children away from families and sentence people to years in prison. People ought to know who these judges are.”

Even in groups of lawyers, Murnane says it’s a struggle to find an attorney who can name all the justices on the Illinois Supreme Court.

One Supreme Court election is on the ballot this year. Justice Lloyd Karmeier is seeking retention in the Fifth Judicial District, which includes most of Southern Illinois.

Terms for supreme and appellate justices are 10 years each. Circuit court terms are six years each.

In addition to keeping people informed, ICJL has submitted proposals to the state legislature in hopes of reforming the judicial selection process.

Murnane said he’d like to see partisan titles removed from judicial elections and have the elections at a different time of year, like April for example, where judicial elections would be more front and center and not overshadowed by more headline-grabbing races.

ICJL’s site will be updated almost daily as judicial candidates and sitting judges respond to the questionnaire. Evaluations and merited endorsements will be made by the organization in mid-September.

ICJL is a coalition of Illinois citizens, small and large businesses, associations, professional societies, not-for-profit organizations and local governments that have joined together to work for fairness in the Illinois civil justice system, according to the ICJL website.

Reach David Yates at elections@legalnewsline.com

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