Sunday, January 05, 2014

Endorsements vs. ratings

Favorable bar ratings are not endorsements; endorsements are not the same as favorable ratings.

Voters should keep this in mind as they look at judicial candidate websites and try and make informed decisions about who is worthy of their vote.

The Chicago Bar Association (CBA) and the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening, a coalition of 11 bar associations including the Chicago Council of Lawyers (CCL), the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), and the Cook County Bar Association (CCBA), evaluate judicial candidates and issue ratings, offering opinions that this candidate is "qualified" (and sometimes "well qualified" or "highly qualified") or that candidate is "not recommended" or "not qualified."

Sometimes the Bar Associations are unanimous in their opinions -- good or bad -- about Candidate A; sometimes the bar associations will split. The Women's Bar Association of Illinois (WBAI) may find a candidate "Recommended," and the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois (HLAI) may find that same candidate "Qualified," but another Alliance Group, the Puerto Rican Bar Association (PRBA), say, looking at the same investigation that all eleven Alliance bar groups considered, may find that same candidate "Not Qualified." Reasonable people may differ.

Bar association ratings, no matter how favorable, are not endorsements: None of the bar associations issuing ratings is telling voters to vote for a particular candidate. In a given race, Candidates A, B, and C may all have favorable ratings. That doesn't give a voter much help in deciding which candidate is worthy of their vote. In another, candidates X, Y and Z may all be found "not qualified" or "not recommended." That likewise doesn't give a voter much help in making a decision.

Endorsements, on the other hand, are (usually) suggestions that a voter choose Candidate A instead of Candidates B and C. The Cook County Democratic Party makes endorsements. The IVI-IPO and many other community or interest groups make endorsements. A number of labor unions make endorsements. Just to keep voters off balance, a couple of bar associations (not the CBA or any of the Alliance bar groups) make endorsements instead of issuing ratings.

Of course, endorsements do not necessarily mean that the group making the endorsement really believes that the endorsee will be a good judge; sometimes it means only that the endorsee, or the endorsee's mother or father, was a long-time, high-profile member of the organization making the endorsement. And sometimes an "endorsement" isn't even a real suggestion that voters choose Candidate K instead of Candidates L or M: In a recent election cycle, one union "endorsed" two or three candidates in every contested race.

Endorsing organizations are not necessarily concerned about letting any persons other than their members find out about their endorsements -- which makes it hard for me to verify and report endorsements. (Candidates, of course, are often quick to alert me to endorsements they've received, but -- while I do not doubt any of these -- I only report those that I can independently verify.)

Some endorsements may be mixed blessings: There are some people who faithfully vote the entire endorsement list put out by (for example) the Fraternal Order of Police; there may, however, be others who would not consider voting for anyone who received an FOP endorsement.

In deciding what weight to give an endorsement, it is important for a voter to know what group is making the endorsement, and how or why it makes endorsements. The Tribune may give a line or two of an explanation when it makes judicial endorsements in an editorial; some groups will issue a press release explaining their decisions. Other groups will send a letter or email to their members saying vote for Mary Smith and John Jones -- without ever saying why.

I'll report every bar rating for every candidate and every endorsement I can verify here on FWIW, whether or not I can also report the reasons underlying the endorsement. My suggestion is that bar ratings and endorsements are tools for voters to use. It is up to each voter to decide how much weight to give any particular rating or endorsement.

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