Saturday, March 15, 2014

BREAKING: CBA JEC withdraws Judge Lyle's "Qualified" rating

John P. Jacoby, the Chair of the Judicial Evaluation Committee of the Chicago Bar Association, has confirmed to FWIW that, late yesterday, the Executive Committee of the CBA JEC voted to withdraw the finding of "Qualified" that the CBA had previously bestowed upon Judge Freddrenna M. Lyle, candidate for the Gordon vacancy on the Illinois Appellate Court.

Judge Lyle's "Qualified" rating remains published in the CBA Green Guide, available at the CBA website because, according to Jacoby, the JEC's decision was made so late in the day on Friday that there was no way to change it.

Jacoby said the CBA JEC decided to revisit its favorable rating of Judge Lyle after receiving complaints from other candidates that Judge Lyle was touting the CBA "Qualified" rating as if it were an endorsement. The committee action was taken after reviewing both the audio and script of a radio commercial that was played in heavy rotation on WVON. A 75% vote of the JEC Executive Committee was necessary to rescind the rating, Jacoby said.

The JEC is a semi-autonomous committee of the CBA, operating under a governing resolution. Under Rule 27.3 of that governing resolution, Jacoby said, if "potentially material" (information that could reasonably and foreseeably alter the finding) comes to the committee's attention after a finding is given, the Executive Committee can withdraw a current finding and conduct additional investigation and have a new hearing.

In this case, the concern is that the commercial represented an effort to confuse the voting public into believing that the CBA's "finding" constituted an "endorsement."

All of the bar groups that rate judicial candidates caution that their ratings are not endorsements. On several occasions, Jacoby said, the CBA has noted that a candidate has included a favorable CBA rating on his or her website, on an endorsements page. The CBA has, in those cases, directed the candidate to fix the website to avoid any confusion. But campaign websites, earlier in the election cycle, aren't likely to result in significant voter confusion. This case was different, Jacoby said, because the commercial was being repeatedly played, increasing the chance that voters would be misled into believing that the CBA was endorsing Judge Lyle.

According to JEC rules, after a rating is withdrawn, the committee can conduct additional investigation and schedule a new hearing. "The timing of this violation and the subsequent withdrawal makes it unlikely that a rehearing could be scheduled that would have any result prior to the polls opening Tuesday morning," Jacoby said.

Asked whether the JEC's action was unprecedented, Jacoby pointed out that the "Qualified" finding previously bestowed by the CBA on a countywide candidate was withdrawn earlier in the election cycle. Also, in 2000, Jacoby said, the CBA Board of Managers acted to revoke a "Qualified" finding previously awarded to a Supreme Court candidate because of campaign advertisements.

Judge Lyle advised FWIW that she is "absolutely willing to work with the CBA in any review process."

Judge Lyle said she was informed of the CBA JEC's concern at 4:00 p.m. yesterday. "I thought they were mistaken," Judge Lyle said, "but contacted the staffer who arranged the commercial immediately. Within an hour I had contacted the ad agency. However, before I could converse with the CBA they had voted to rescind."

Judge Lyle said that, insofar as the problem has been explained to her, the issue seems to boil down to two words that were omitted "in the typing and retyping of President Preckwinkle's script for the commercial. I was president of a bar association that engages in judicial evaluations," Lyle said, "and I understand fully that bar associations do not issue endorsements."

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