Monday, December 02, 2013

WGN investigation to hit some judges where they live?

WGN-TV News is heavily promoting an investigation it conducted with the Medill Watchdog group. The results of its investigation will air, starting tonight, with a report by Mark Suppelsa on the 9:00 News.

The teases are, in classic TV style, long on innuendo and short on specifics: In a state where judges are elected, is it really a surprise that many would-be judges will occasionally consort with known political figures in order to attain the bench? It is a fact, of course, that some judicial candidates are elected, and some sitting judges are retained, on political credentials and considerations alone, despite uniformly negative bar association evaluations. These instances might be reduced, or even entirely prevented if more media outlets paid attention to judicial candidates and campaigns. FWIW readers are able to compare and contrast judicial candidates' bar ratings, watch their interviews, and learn of the candidates' various endorsements and, so, make informed decisions when voting for judge. But, historically, the Chicago newspapers provide virtually no coverage of judicial elections (the Chicago Sun-Times didn't even bother to make endorsements in 2012), and the TV stations even less.

However, WGN viewers should not expect a confession of fault and a promise to devote more resources to covering judicial elections in future.

If you listen to Mr. Suppelsa's linked promotion, you will hear that tonight's investigation may reveal that some judges have been elected from subcircuits where they do not live. In one of his few specific references, Mr. Suppelsa mentions judges owning houses outside a subcircuit but claiming to live with their parents inside the subcircuit boundaries. The tease on the Medill Watchdog site also refers to "several subcircuit judges serving from subcircuits where they may not even live."

But for the use of the plural, I might have thought that WGN and Medill were just now discovering In re Golniewicz, 4 Ill. Cts. Com. 9 (2004), in which the Illinois Courts Commission removed a judge from the bench for, inter alia falsely claiming, at the time he ran for judicial office and thereafter, to live with his parents in the 10th Subcircuit, when in fact he lived in Riverside.

Judge Golniewicz was removed from office in 2004.

Nine years ago.

Not exactly late-breaking news.

The Illinois Supreme Court had occasion to cite the Golniewicz case in the more recent case of Goodman v. Ward, 241 Ill.2d 398, 948 N.E.2d 580 (2011). Goodman concerned the removal of a judicial candidate from the primary ballot because he was not a resident of the subcircuit in which he sought election at the time he filed for the vacancy. (FWIW reported on the Goodman decision the day the opinion was released.)

In Goodman, the Illinois Supreme Court stated (241 Ill.2d at 412-413):
Giving sections 11 and 12 [of Article VI of the 1970 Illinois Constitution] their plain and ordinary meaning, it is therefore clear that under our Constitution, candidates for the office of circuit, appellate or supreme court judge must be residents of the unit from which they seek election before they may cause their names to appear on the ballot for the primary election. See Maddux v. Blagojevich, 233 Ill. 2d 508, 514 n.3, 911 N.E.2d 979, 331 Ill. Dec. 749 (2009). If they are not residents, they are simply ineligible to run. If they attempt to run when they do not meet the constitutionally mandated residency requirement and manage to win the election, they will be subject to removal from office by the Illinois Courts Commission. In re Golniewicz, 4 Ill. Cts. Com. 9, 39-40 (2004).
Goodman came down in 2011.

Also not late-breaking news.

In light of these clear precedents, it is difficult to believe that anyone would still try and game election to the bench by lying about their true residence. Of course, this cuts both ways: If WGN really has identified multiple judges who have misrepresented their residency, and thus their right to serve in judicial office, some new vacancies may soon be posted. Hopefully, FWIW readers who view tonight's report will find in this post some context and background with which to evaluate the charges that WGN and Medill seem about to make.


Tom Davy said...

Without having seen the program I suppose a comment at this time may be premature, but there is an Attorney General Opinion, 06-005, which holds in that "... a 'resident judge,' who is initially elected from a single county or subcircuit within a judicial circuit, may reside anywhere within that circuit after winning a circuit-wide retention election." However, if someone is relying on that opinion, just come out and move and not use an address within the subcircuit as a subterfuge.

Anonymous said...

While time will soon tell, perhaps the story is on the possible conflict of the state constitution and a relatively recent statutory amendment. The statute states: "(e) A resident judge elected from a subcircuit shall continue to reside in that subcircuit as long as he or she holds that office. A resident judge elected from a subcircuit after January 1, 2008, must retain residency as a registered voter in the subcircuit to run for retention from the circuit at large thereafter." 705 ILCS 35/2f.

However, the state constitution states: "No person shall be eligible to be a Judge or Associate Judge unless he is a United States citizen, a licensed
attorney-at-law of this State, and a resident of the unit

Because of this apparent conflict and the fact that the constitution trumps when there is a conflict, many are of the position that a subcircuit judge must reside within the subcircuit until after the first retention at which time they are voted upon ("selected") countywide. In other words, because the retention election is a countywide election, the county "selects" the judge, so the judge can live anywhere in the county after the first retention.

Anonymous said...

Looks like it will be about the so-called "merit selection" of judges.

Anonymous said...

Aurelia Pucinski ran for a countywide seat while she was a subcircuit judge because she wanted to move into a downtown condo.

Jack Leyhane said...

@Anon 10:48 p.m. -- I don't know that for a fact, but let's assume it's true: Wouldn't that be exactly the correct thing to do if a subcircuit judge planned/hoped to move out of the subcircuit for whatever reason?

Anonymous said...

I'm anon 10:48. I agree, she did the right thing - I'm just pointing it out because it's an interesting tidbit of Cook County judicial trivia that's tangentially related to the topic at hand.