Judging the judges and finding the wanting

There is a school of thought that says we shouldn’t elect judges. The thinking is that when judges’ jobs depend on making the voters happy, you start getting decisions that are merely popular, and not necessarily founded in the law.

As someone who scratches his head over the completely dumb decisions people make at the polls, I have to say there might be some truth to that. What other explanation is there for the fact that Kevin “Catch and Release Lyons” keeps getting re-elected? Well, other than the fact that Darin LaHood ran a rather poor campaign.

But I digress.

Electing judges might not be the best way to pick them. But I can’t think of any better way. Have judges decide who gets to be a judge? Nothing elitist about that idea. Have politicians pick ‘em? Granted it works for the Supreme Court, but the history of the SCOTUS is filled with judges who told their patrons to stick it.

Nope. We’re stuck with actually electing judges at the state and local level. Well, we are in Illinois. I have no idea how they do things in less corrupt states, like New Jersey and Louisiana.

On November 2, we’re going to do just that. And we’re also going to decide if we are going to keep some of the judges we have.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride is running for a second 10-year term. Actually, it’s not like he’s facing an opponent. He’s running for retention, which means that if he doesn’t get 60 percent of voters to vote to retain him, he loses his job.

Normally, Kilbride wouldn’t be too worried. Most people vote to retain judges.

But this is the year of the Tea Party. There’s a lot of voter anger out there. And in Kilbride’s case, there is an active campaign by business owners who think Kilbride isn’t on their side in malpractice decisions… They are all over the Internet telling people that Kilbride makes decisions that are driving jobs out of Illinois and into states that don’t side with  malpractice victims so much.

And I am the last person to tell these people they are wrong. The fact that the voters decide who gets to be a judge implies that the voters can base their decision on any damn criteria they want, including if they think the judge is insufficiently deferential to their corporate overlords.

But voters aren’t just angry about the economy. They are also worried about crime. I looked at a recent mailing State Rep Jehan Gordon is sending out. It was totally about crime. She complained about Republican opponent Jim Montelongo, a member of the Peoria City Council, voting to eliminate five police jobs.

And crime is going to play a role in another judicial retention vote. Mary McDade, who serves on the 3rd District Appellate Court in Illinois, is also up for retention. And like Kilbride she needs 60 percent of the vote to keep her job.

And like the voters will do in Kilbride’s case, voters can base their decision on McDade on any damn think they want. And voters might want to dump McDade because she makes decisions that are unhealthy and unsafe for the community.

Remember how poor, misunderstood Dione Alexander shot up Woodruff High School. Peoria County Circuit Court Judge James Shadid sentenced Alexander to 24 years in prison, but McDade and her Appellate Court cohort Mary O’Brien ruled that Shadid failed to take into account the fact he might be able to be rehabilitated, and that he put too much emphasis on the fact that Alexander fired inside a crowded hallway at Woodruff.

I remember that day. Hundreds of parents stood in Woodruff’s parking lot for hours, waiting for police to finish their search for the shooter while their children were inside the locked-down school.

Because of time served, their decision essentially freed Alexander.

If poor, misunderstood Alexander’s name seems familiar, it’s because he currently under arrest and charged with masterminding a series of shootings in Peoria this summer. Investigators say he later tried to start his very own street gang by trying killing off competitors.

Of course, Shadid is being considered for a job as a federal judge, which means that he will outrank McDade.  Many people who’ve been watching these decisions from McDade already think Shadid is the better judge, and that this just makes it official.

Perhaps some of these people will vote on November 2nd.

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