Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Retention Judges Fundraiser September 20

My invite to the September 20 fundraiser hosted by the "Citizens for Retention of Judges in Cook County, 2010" arrived in the mail this week.

Full disclosure: If I can scrape up the requested $125 donation, I plan to attend this function, which will run from 5:00 to 8:00pm in the Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington Street.

Entertainment, says the invitation, will be provided by "Judge Gregory Paul Vazquez & His Jazz Ensemble."

This is the one fundraiser held on behalf of all the retention judges in Cook County and it will be extraordinarily well attended.

Judicial retention elections are a strange thing. The 70 judges up for retention in Cook County this year do not run against anyone; the candidate's name is on the ballot in the form of a question that comes down to this: Should Judge X remain a judge? Or should Judge X look for work elsewhere come December?

If Judge X receives at least a 60% "yes" vote, he or she keeps the job.

It is rare indeed for a judge to thrown out of office at a retention election; the last time any Cook County judges failed to achieve a 60% yes vote was in 1990 when seven judges were removed (though one was simultaneously elected to the Appellate Court).

But that doesn't mean that judges have no reason to take retention elections seriously. It is a fact that at least two out of 10 voters will mark "no" on every single judge, no matter how qualified. In the 2008 retention election, for example, only one Circuit Court judge received more than an 80% "yes" vote (and she received, by my calculation, 80.1%).

Thus, the stars of the newspapers' editorials, the individuals rated most highly qualified by all the various bar groups, can still expect to be rejected by 20% or more of the voters -- and that's in a normal year. Across the nation, there is evidence to suggest that the theme of the current election cycle may be "throw the rascals out" -- rascals being loosely defined as anyone holding office.

But wholesale removal of judges in Cook County would not be in the public's best interests.

We have many very good, hard-working, scholarly judges in Cook County. There will also be some judges on this year's retention ballot who, in the opinion of some bar associations, or some newspapers or community groups, should join the ranks of the unemployed. Usually, there will be some disagreement: Judge X may be rejected by one bar association, but recommended by another. It is up to the voters to educate themselves, in these cases, as to which bar association, or which newspaper editorial board, has the correct view. I will try and report the good and the bad, the agreements and the disagreements, on various retention candidates in this blog.

But the default vote on the retention ballot, in the absence of a good reason to vote otherwise, should be "yes."

And that is why I plan to buy my ticket for September 20.

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