Saturday, January 09, 2010

Endorsements versus evaluations

Earlier today I had the opportunity to post a list of judicial endorsements made by the Advocates Society, an association of Polish-American lawyers. I mentioned that the Advocates Society is not a member of the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening. There was a reason for highlighting this fact.

Neither the Chicago Bar Association nor the 11 member bar associations that together comprise the Alliance make endorsements in judicial races. Instead, these groups evaluate candidates. Sometimes these groups find a candidate recommended or qualified (or, occasionally, highly qualified) -- sometimes they don't. But a positive evaluation from these groups is not an endorsement.

The difference between a positive evaluation and an endorsement can be explained this way: In some races, the major bar groups will find everyone, or nearly every candidate, qualified or highly qualified. Obviously, the voter can not vote for all of these. In a couple of races, a bar association may find that no candidate is qualified. But the bar association is not telling voters to refuse to vote in that race. On the other hand, a group, even a lawyers' group like the Advocates, that makes an endorsement is suggesting that you vote for a particular candidate.

Voters reading through the evaluations of the various bar associations will find that, sometimes, the groups disagree with each other. This does not mean that one group is right or the other is wrong. It does mean that hard-working judicial evaluation committees sometimes reach different conclusions even though they are evaluating the same data. Reasonable people can sometimes differ.

Some evaluators see jury trial experience as the most important factor in rating a candidate. Others see significant courtroom work, even though it may not involve frequent trials, as decisive. Still others believe that the best trial lawyers do not always make the best judges. Some evaluators will put more value than others on legal writing, teaching or government service.

Voters will also note that some of the evaluations published this week by the Chicago Bar Association or the Chicago Council of Lawyers are not 'new.' Some were prepared for a different purpose, such as the evaluation of applicants for Associate Judge, or when an individual was considered for a bench appointment by the Illinois Supreme Court. The bar associations have a large number of candidates to evaluate in any given election cycle. Each organization depends on lawyers volunteering their time to assist the process -- but there are only so many volunteers. Because of the winter holidays and early primary date, the available time for candidate evaluation is shorter now than ever. Adherence to strict deadlines and the re-use of some evaluations helps ease the workload.

Evaluations and endorsements are tools for voters to use. It is up to each voter to decide how much weight to give any particular evaluation or endorsement.

No comments: