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Illinois legal reform group says judicial selection process 'may be the worst system in the world'

By David Yates | Feb 20, 2014

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - An Illinois legal reform group is arguing for the implementation of a new judicial candidate selection process because it says some judges "play games" and bypass the election process.

If it were up to the Illinois Civil Justice League, a bipartisan panel consisting of four lawyers and four non-lawyers would screen judicial candidates.

He says that partisanship in selecting judges is a problem in Illinois where the Democratic Party has a stronghold in most of the state's 102 counties.

"Illinois needs to change the way judges are selected," ICJL President Ed Murnane said. "Judicial candidates shouldn't be handpicked by a Democratic power structure."

Due to heavy Democratic counties in Illinois, many judicial elections are uncontested.

"Republicans are extremely weak in Illinois," Murnane said.

And in some cases where an election battle might ensue, judges could announce they are seeking retention then retire after the point where an election cannot be held, allowing the Illinois Supreme Court to appoint a judge of its choosing, he says.

"It's a way for some of the political forces in Illinois to control who the candidates will be," Murnane said. "This is not the best system in the world. In fact, it may be the worse system in world."

A judicial retention vote differs from a general election in that voters do not choose from a list of candidates, but rather vote on whether to retain the current incumbent or not.

Murnane said no legislation seeking to reform the judicial candidate selection system would be introduced in 2014, as it is an eventful election year.

For now, ICJL has set its sights on May 5, waiting to see which judges will seek retention.

"We don't know what the ballot is going to look like until after May 5," Murnane said. "The real picture will be better known then."

And the organization's primary focal point in May? Whether or not Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, a Republican, will seek retention.

"His decision is of great interest -- we would certainly want to keep him on the bench," Murnane said.

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.

From Legal Newsline: Reach David Yates at elections@legalnewsline.com.

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