ICJL begins judicial evaluation process; Big races for area voters

From the Madison County Record

The Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) has launched its 2014 judicial candidate evaluations process, seeking to keep voters informed about potential jurists who “can have a tremendous impact on the daily lives of the citizens of Illinois.”

Throughout last week, the ICJL distributed surveys to 69 candidates for election. Surveys to the 158 sitting judges who are seeking retention in November will be sent this week.

“It’s very important people pay attention to judicial elections,” said ICJL President Ed Murnane. “Illinois is one of the few states that elects judges on a purely partisan basis.”

Judicial candidates who respond to the survey will have their answers posted at IllinoisJudges.net. Candidates who decline to respond will be noted and publicized, according to Murnane.

“The judicial system in Illinois is very ignored,” said Murnane. “Very few people pay attention and there is little to no competition. People don’t know who these judges are and what they stand for.”

Once a judge or justice is elected, it’s very rare they are ever voted out office, Murnane said.

In the Nov. 4 general election, candidates seeking retention must get approval — or “yes” votes — from 60 percent of those casting ballots on the retention question. Candidates in contested races must receive more votes than his or her opponent.

“This is probably one of the poorest judicial selection processes in the U.S.,” Murnane said. “Judges have a tremendous impact on the daily lives of the citizens of Illinois. They have the right to take children away from families and sentence people to years in prison. People ought to know who these judges are.”

Even in groups of lawyers, Murnane says it’s a struggle to find an attorney who can name all the justices on the Illinois Supreme Court.

One Supreme Court election is on the ballot this year. Justice Lloyd Karmeier, Republican, is seeking retention in the Fifth Judicial District, which includes the 37 most southern counties in Illinois.

Terms for supreme and appellate justices are 10 years each. Circuit court terms are six years each.

In addition to keeping people informed, ICJL has submitted proposals to the state legislature in hopes of reforming the judicial selection process.



Denial Can’t Mask Illinois’ Poor Lawsuit Climate

By Lisa Rickard, President, US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform

Denial is one of the oldest tricks around. When confronted with an uncomfortable situation, one common human instinct is to deny there’s a problem.

Recent commentary (available here and here) by Chicago plaintiffs’ lawyer John Cooney proves this point. As the president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and one of the state’s leading personal injury lawyers, he is troubled by calls for legal reform in Illinois. His response? Denying that Illinois has a lawsuit abuse problem.

Unfortunately, all of Cooney’s denials can’t change the fact that Illinois has one of the worst lawsuit climates in the nation. The state attracts litigation from around the country, while repelling businesses and the much-needed jobs they create.

In fact, businesses are the best people to ask about which states have good and bad litigation environments. In a survey of in-house business counsel commissioned by my organization, the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), Illinois’s legal climate ranked 46th in the nation-lowest in the Midwest and ahead of only four other states nationally.

In addition, this ranking rated Cook County as the single worst jurisdiction in the country, while Madison County was ranked sixth worst. It should be no surprise that these counties ranked so poorly as they represent classic examples of “jackpot” jurisdictions.

Cook County has become a national hub for personal injury and product liability cases. Meanwhile, Madison County has become the nation’s top jurisdiction for asbestos personal injury lawsuits. With .09 percent of the nation’s population, Madison County accounts for more than 25 percent of the nation’s asbestos lawsuits.

Full Commentary.

News Update

Peoria Labor Boss’ Wife Among IDOT Employees Hired In Controversial Process

From the Peoria Journal-Star

One of the 103 people still on the job after being hired in a patronage scandal that has engulfed Gov. Pat Quinn’s transportation department is the wife of a top Peoria area labor official, state records show.

Teresa Helfers made nearly $50,000 a year when hired into the “staff assistant” position in District 4 of the Illinois Department of Transportation in December 2011, one of a host of hires made by the Quinn administration that were slammed as improper by an inspector general’s report that found they flouted rules meant to block hiring based on political connections.

Marty Helfers is the executive director of the West Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, and has frequently been singled out by Quinn for praise during the governor’s visits to the region.

IDOT officials said Friday — when the list of employees including Teresa Helfers was released — that no additional employees hired under the controversial process would be fired after the 58 who were let go on Sept. 30 and later sued to keep their jobs.

Through the agency, Teresa Helfers “respectfully declined” a request Monday to be interviewed about her hiring by and work for IDOT. A call to Marty Helfers on the same subject was not returned Monday.

Read more in our daily News Update…