From WGN-News Chicago
For many of us, the only image we have of a judge comes from movies or TV shows. For the next four nights, we’re going to show you a lot of them by asking a simple question: Who is judging the judges? You might be surprised. Our joint WGN investigation with the Medill Watchdogs of Northwestern exposes where the majority of least qualified judges are coming from.
For the first time ever, as the curtain draws back allowing cameras in Illinois to peek into some courtrooms, viewers are getting a glimpse at the absolute power behind the robe. Cameras have yet to be allowed in Cook County and unless you are before a judge, you probably can’t name any of the 400-plus judges or which ones you voted for in the last election.
Two decades ago, the leaders in Springfield tried to fix the problem of too many unknown judges by breaking up the massive list into smaller bite-sized subcircuits. It seemed like a win-win, these subcircuits. Neighbors could meet the judicial candidates because they lived there. The winning judge would be from their community bringing more minorities to the bench. In Cook County, that even meant Republicans. A good idea with good intentions, but like the old proverb says, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
When asked what he thought of subcircuits, Anton Valukas, a lawyer and Chairman of Jenner & Block said, “I think they’re terrible.”
Nearly 30 years ago, Valukas as U.S. Attorney oversaw the prosecution of one of the largest court scandals in the United States: Operation Greylord. Charges of bribery, fixing a murder case, even a wiretap in a judge’s chamber led to 92 indictments including the conviction of 15 judges. According to Valukas, “All of a sudden everybody got religion, as they say in the trade. So I would say corruption is not the issue right now.”
Instead, Valukas says the problem is weak judges created by the subcircuit system.
“The issue right now is competence and the fact that you continue to have politics involved in this process always opens the door to the potential of corruption in the future. So why have a system that does that?” he says.
He added that unlike judges who run countywide, the candidates who run for one of the 15 smaller subcircuit seats rarely face tough challengers. Most are always backed by the Democratic Party, they rarely have to prove their judicial chops to win.
An American Legal System Run Amok
From US Chamber President Tom Donohue
That’s what it’s been like fighting the trial bar. For 15 years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform has been waging an entrenched battle against a handful of trial lawyers who are trying to suck the vitality out of companies large and small — and our economy.
We started ILR to fight for a faster, simpler and fairer legal system. We recognized that a rising tide of lawsuits was sinking the economy. We noticed how certain members of the trial bar were gaming a flawed legal system, destroying jobs and economic opportunity in the process.
Given the power and wealth of the trial bar, we’ve had more than our fair share of successes. We’ve helped rein in frivolous class actions through passage of the Class Action Fairness Act. We’ve successfully pressured states to reform their legal systems. And we’ve systematically exposed the underhanded, and sometimes illegal, tactics of a handful of trial lawyers.
Still, 15 years later America has the costliest legal system in the world. The total tort liability price tag for small businesses, for example, is an astounding $105 billion annually. Frivolous lawsuits remain a serious drag on our economic recovery and undermine true justice for legitimate victims.
This proves that the trial bar is resilient and innovative, constantly pursuing an agenda of more lawsuits and huge paydays. And it is pursuing that agenda in multiple ways — by inserting lawsuit-creating provisions in congressional legislation and government regulations, attempting to export U.S.-style class action suits abroad, attacking arbitration and financing lawsuits all over the world.
The trial bar’s dogged pursuit of lawsuits will never change, which means we need to keep fighting. The threat of lawsuits increases uncertainty, stifles investment and hiring, and even bankrupts some companies.
Read the entire commentary…
How Could It Be? Even The ”Supremes” Don’t Follow The Law
From WGN Chicago
Who knew, of all people, the most powerful judges in the state are not following the law. All this week, we’ve exposed how judges in Cook County are skirting more than one law, like getting tax breaks where they shouldn’t or living outside of their courtroom subcircuit. But in tonight’s joint WGN investigation with the Medill Watchdog unit of Northwestern, some question why should they follow the law if their big brothers and sisters, the Supremes aren’t?
In Illinois no one has more power than the Supremes. These seven people can say yea or nay to any law passed in Springfield, including the requirement that a judge has to live in his or her subcircuit at the time of election. The Supremes ruled, they do. But it is the second part of the law that’s not so clear. It requires a judge to retain residency or stay living in the district for their six year term and beyond.
As you’ve seen in our investigation, “Judging the Judges” we’ve found judges finding ways around the residency rule without anyone questioning them. It raises questions about the need for subcircuits originally designed to have judges elected from the neighborhoods where they live. Robert Cummins once chaired the Judicial Inquiry Board, and is a watchdog agency for judges. When asked why we have subcircuits, Cummins responded, “If I was making the call, we wouldn’t.”
After all, why should a lower level judge worry about where he or she lives when the highest court in Illinois is ignoring the residency rules too. You see there is a law on the books for the Supremes too called the Judicial Vacancies Act. It says that they must appoint a judge to fill a Cook County subcircuit vacancy with someone from the subcircuit. They haven’t always done that.
According to Cummins, “Although some members of the court, the Supreme Court who are involved in appointments have a fairly credible screening committee that they’ve established, the process still, I think lacks credibility.”
Take Judge Lauretta Higgins Wolfson. She ran for election and lost. The Supreme Court then appointed her to the 13th subcircuit. The problem is Wolfson lives in a beautiful high-rise on the lake far away from the subcircuit serving Palatine, Schaumburg and Hanover Park.
Read more in our daily News Update…