Thursday, August 20, 2009

Judicial candidates: Beware of Levine's Law

Nearly every day I read a blog by comedy writer, director, producer, and sometime baseball announcer Ken Levine. Among his many credits are M*A*S*H and Cheers -- shows I actually watched, back in the day. When I stumble across a rerun on MeTV or MeToo I look for his name... and seethe with jealousy when I spot it.

Levine published a list of laws on his blog in September 2007. The first of these dates from his days broadcasting Seattle Mariners games: "The lead off walk will always come around to score...unless it doesn't."

It's hard to argue with that one.

And this one strikes me as absolutely true as well: "If you’re telling a joke in a restaurant the waiter will arrive and interrupt the minute you get to the punch line."

But neither of these are of particular relevance to aspiring judges. This one is:
In every article that mentions you, no matter how complimentary the article, there will always be one thing said or misquoted that will prevent you from Xeroxing and sending it to your family.
Actually, as judicial candidates are probably finding out now, it's hard to get anything said at all, complimentary or otherwise.

I remember walking my press release (and glossy head shot photo) into all the local papers when I ran for judge in 1994 and 1996. I couldn't get an announcement printed. And there were more papers then than now, and the news holes were bigger. (Some candidates, then and now, fared better than I. But my experiences were not unique.)

I did find that the local papers were quite willing to take my money for advertisements.

Today the line between article and ad has blurred, as candidates may be able to get an article printed in a local 'shopper'... for a price.

Tough as the local papers are on judicial hopefuls, though, the surviving Chicago dailies are worse. Both the Sun-Times and the Tribune will at some point this primary season decry how little is known about Cook County judicial candidates. This will probably come in the course of their respective editorials making one or two sentence endorsements of countywide candidates. (Subcircuit candidates may not even get that much.)

As a consumer of judicial services (i.e., a practicing lawyer) and a wannabe myself (I've applied for associate judge many times since 1996) I have an interest in trying to provide an opportunity for all Cook County judicial candidates, of any party, to get their messages out. As time permits, I'll post information I find surfing the Internet. When someone contacts me on behalf of a campaign, I will try and respond as promptly as my 'day job' permits. I reserve the right to put my expensive Westlaw subscription to work, looking for past stories about candidates. There have been a couple of occasions, in the past, when I've found stories that weren't entirely favorable.

I am not a paid journalist, though I'm a long-time dabbler. I didn't attend Medill. (I'll save my favorite Medill stories for Page Two... some other time.) I did have one journalism class at Loyola, taught by the late Al Gray, a former Tribune copy editor. He preached that it was a mistake for journalists to claim objectivity; that was an unrealistic goal, he said. Instead, a writer must try to be fair.

So, to judicial candidates in Cook County looking for an opportunity to be heard: I will try to be fair. But, remember, we are all subject to Levine's Law.

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