Friday, January 06, 2012

Pictures from and comments concerning last night's CCBA Supreme Court Candidate Symposium

The Cook County Bar Association hosted a symposium last night for all of the candidates running for the Fitzgerald vacancy on the Illinois Supreme Court in the Powers, Rogers & Smith Ceremonial Courtroom at the Loyola University Law School.

(From left to right, above and below: WGN-TV's Robert Jordan,
Appellate Court Justice Joy V. Cunningham, attorney Tom
Flannigan, Appellate Court Justice Aurelia M. Pucinski, Circuit
Court Judge James G. Riley, Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane
Theis,and former Appellate Court Justice John P. Tully.)

Lawyers would not expect a great deal of news to be generated by a symposium of this type, and there wasn't. Mr. Flannigan repeated, as he has on prior occasions, that he will not accept campaign donations. Justice Tully said he would. Justice Theis voiced concern about how campaign money has played an increasingly caustic role in some recent judicial elections. All the candidates were in favor of getting qualified judges on the bench. All the candidates were in favor of diversity. And, here's a shocker, seeing as how the candidates were speaking at an event put on by one the area's major bar associations: All the candidates stressed how much they like and respect bar associations and promised (to slightly varying degrees) to work closely with bar associations after election to the Supreme Court on matters of judicial, staff, and committee appointments.

To most voters, this may seem pretty boring. Yet, in my opinion (clearly labeled as such), Robert Jordan was absolutely correct when he said it was too bad that last night's program could not have been broadcast on television. Let me explain.

It would be interesting, of course, to hear the candidates' views on pension reform, for example, or tollway expansion, or school closings. But any judicial candidate foolish enough to venture an opinion on these (or any other 'hot-button' political issue) might be found to have violated Supreme Court Rule 67A(3)(d)(i) (Canon 7A(3)(d)(i) of the Code of Judicial Conduct) which prevents any judicial candidate from making "statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues within cases that are likely to come before the court."

Yet it would be extremely informative, I think, for voters to see how judicial candidates respond to even the rather vanilla questions that they can answer. Does the candidate appear organized, wise, humble, pleasant, self-deprecating, anxious, arrogant, nervous, uncertain...? Does the candidate show respect for the questions and the questioners? The text of a candidate's answers, no matter how faithfully reported, may not accurately reflect the impression the candidate makes in person. This is why reviewing courts typically defer to trial judges or juries on questions of witness credibility. Yes, the appellate courts have the record of everything the witness said -- but the trial court and/or jury could observe how the witness testified, the tone of voice, the eye contact, the general demeanor and body language of the witness that combined together to give the trial judge or jury an impression of the truthfulness of that witness. A trial judge or jury determines the credibility of a witness based on personal observation. You, the voter, should determine whether this candidate or that one makes a credible case for going onto (or remaining on) the bench.

In other words, if you have the opportunity to attend a future candidate symposium, for judicial candidates at any level, you should make every effort to attend. I will make every effort to publicize in future posts any candidate forum of which I become aware. Perhaps WGN (or its cable sibling CLTV) will find occasion to broadcast a future symposium. In the meantime, WGN should be commended for mentioning last night's event on its flagship 9:00pm newscast (and even providing some video of the event). That minute or so was about a minute or so more precious news time than has typically been devoted to Illinois judicial elections in recent election cycles by Chicago TV stations.

Plaudits should also be directed at Cook County Bar Association President Sharon E. Strickland, Loyola Law Professor Neil Williams and all the other organizers of last night's event. Some of these are shown here, posing with the candidates who were able to remain after the symposium ended.


Bonnie McGrath said...

Jack, I wish I could find online the funny piece I wrote for the Law Bulletin 12 years ago about what judicial candidates talk about on the campaign trail because they can't talk about anything real or serious. In it, I advocated for those running for judge to be able to say anything they want--to provoke interest in the judicial races if nothing else--and to give voters a flavor of who they are really voting for and against. The piece won a Kogan Meritorious Achievement Award from the CBA, which was surprising because I do believe the CBA is in favor of keeping the status quo on this matter. I know the piece, published in 2000, would be of interest to your readers once again if it could be revived--but a plain old google search doesn't cut it. My students found it a couple of years ago in another data base. Maybe you might have some luck if you try to find it.

Jack Leyhane said...

Bonnie, I'd hate to spur interest in judicial races by making them like any other political race. They have been different and should remain so. Besides... I think you can learn a lot about a person from their answers to questions that are 'in bounds' -- but only if you can hear the person speak.

Off topic, but only a bit: It's a lesson I wish the U.S. Senate would learn in interviewing nominees for SCOTUS. We'd learn much more about the kind of justice he or she would be from interviews of the nominee's former law clerks, associates or secretaries. Does the nominee have coffee regularly at the same place? I'd like to talk to the waitresses or cashier there. Or the security guards at the courthouse or other building where the nominee works.

And, then, with the nominee in the chair, instead of asking gotcha questions that no serious nominee could answer and getting robotic statements instead, how about asking questions about books or movies, TV programs or sports teams? Only then, after when we know whether the person is human, and likeable or not, the Senators can ask him or her about some past cases or something else that the nominee can use to show how smart he or she is. Instead, we get Kabuki theater.

Bonnie McGrath said...

i think you are quite correct that the public can learn a lot about the candidates by responding to questions that are "in bounds," as you put it. but what I have found is that a lot of candidates use the rules as an excuse to be overly tight-lipped and the public learns very little, if anything. the candidate, in turn, takes no heat--because what are you going to say about someone who says he/she is "following the rules?"

Anonymous said...

No word or endorsement for Pucinski? The most highly qualified bar exam passer to run for any judgeship including Illinois Supreme Court?

Remember for judges it only about name recognition and even that is diminishing for her these days.