Wednesday, March 19, 2014

In judicial elections, is there an electoral advantage to facing the voters as an incumbent judge?

I grant you that the question seems silly on its face.

Common sense tells you that, if you're already on the job, you should have a big leg up on challengers who do not yet have a robe.

But the results last night give me pause.

In the Appellate Court races, sitting Appellate Court Justices Shelly A. Harris and John B. Simon prevailed over challengers who were Circuit Court Judges. One of the Circuit Court judges who did not prevail in the race for the Appellate Court, Judge Freddrenna M. Lyle, has not been elected to the Circuit Court, but is sitting pursuant to Supreme Court appointment, an appointment that will expire on the first Monday in December.

Appointed Judges Daniel J. Kubasiak, Caroline Kate Moreland, and Thomas J. Carroll each won full terms on the Circuit Court last night, but they were unopposed.

Appointed Judges Cynthia Y. Cobbs and Andrea Michele Buford won their contested countywide races.

Pamela McLean Meyerson, Anthony C. "Tony" Kyriakopoulos, and James L. Kaplan, all appointed judges, won their respective subcircuit races.

But appointed Judges Alfred M. Swanson, Jr. and Peter J. Vilkelis lost their countywide races. Appointed Judge Daniel Lawrence Peters fell short in his 4th Subcircuit bid, as did Judges Jerry A. Esrig and Michael Francis Otto in the 9th, and Judge Diana Embil in the 15th.

Another appointed judge, Judge Chris Lawler, is clinging to a miniscule 14 vote lead in the other 15th subcircuit contest.

Thus, focusing in on the contested Circuit Court races, five appointed judges won, six lost -- and one, I believe, is still up in the air.

I don't see that as an overwhelming advantage for incumbent judges.

Now, the five Circuit Court candidates who did win had significant party support. But Judge Swanson was also slated, and Judge Esrig had the public support of Cong. Jan Schakowsky. Thus, party support plus a robe is strong indicator of electoral success, but by no means a guarantee.

Appointed Judge Gregory Emmett Ahern, Jr. chose not to run after he was told he would not get party backing (he ran a strong race in the 6th Subcircuit in 2012, prior to his appointment, but lost to the slated candidate there). Appointed Judge Jean Margaret Cocozza did not appear before the Democratic slatemakers and did not run. Judge Lauretta Higgins Wolfson, who was appointed to the Iosco vacancy in the 13th Subcircuit, likewise did not run. Judge Allan W. Masters filed for the 12th Subcircuit vacancy, but was ruled off the ballot.

Judges Ahern, Cocozza, Wolfson and Masters have all filed for Associate Judge, as have Judges Swanson, Vilkelis, Peters and Otto. And while some of them will probably obtain appointment, it is highly unlikely -- based on historical precedent and not on any inside information whatsoever -- that all will even make the short list.

And then there are appointed Judges Freddrenna M. Lyle, Diana Embil, and Jerry A. Esrig who are not even in the current class of Associate Judge applicants (which, by the way, also includes nine former Circuit Court judges and one former Associate Judge now sitting pursuant to a recall assignment).

None of this diminishes the honor or tarnishes the luster of being singled out by the Illinois Supreme Court for appointment to the Circuit Court bench. It is a tremendous career achievement for all who have been appointed. But does it provide an advantage in a contested election? This morning, I'm not at all certain that the answer is so obvious.


Albert said...

Only indirectly--to the extent that it enables them to establish a performance history for ratings purposes, and to become more appealing to slatemakers. VERY few voters will have any direct awareness of which names on the ballot have judicial experience and which don't.

Brendan said...

I think you should take Harris and Lyle out of the equation, since they ran against each other. The dispositive factor in that race was clearly Harris' money. "incumbency" matters. But the list of important factors, by level of impact, is still: 1)money; 2) gender; 3) quality of name; 4) slating; 5) ballot position; 6) newspaper/bar endorsements; 7) continuity of slating and committeemen support (the other reason Harris beat Lyle was the defection from slating of some north lakefront and north suburban committeemen); and then 8) the quality of the candidate/incumbency and experience to run on

Albert said...

Brendan, is that ranking simply your own belief/opinion, or do you have supporting evidence? I’ve done many formal measurements of most of those factors and arrived at a much different ranking. Not saying you’re wrong; I’m just always curious to see whatever evidence others have produced.

Prince Albert said...

I ask Mr. Brendan? You sound quite informed about the process. Have you ever had any personal experience in the slating process? Please shed more lite on this topic because as a independent voter, I feel that your knowledge of this topic is very important for all novice political types.