Editorial: Time to give the boot to bad judges
Editorials November 8, 2012 6:36PM
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Brim, who faces a misdemeanor battery charge, won a new six-year term in Tuesday’s judicial retention election. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
Updated: December 10, 2012 6:25AM
Lots of hand-wringing is going on in legal circles this week after several blatantly incompetent Cook County judges running for retention won new terms.
Four judges were deemed incompetent by the major bar associations that rate judges, and a fifth was rejected by half of the rating panels. But on Tuesday, all five received more than the 60 percent of “yes” votes required to stay on the bench for six more years.
Enough already. This week’s debacle should motivate lawmakers to reform the system. For every judge who lacks the temperament to be on the bench or who doesn’t understand the law, any number of hapless citizens have their lives screwed up each day.
One judge rejected by the bar associations, Cynthia Brim, was in court on Wednesday as a defendant, charged in a misdemeanor battery case. On March 9, she allegedly tossed a set of keys near a security checkpoint and shoved a sheriff’s deputy.
Cook County ballots bulge with the names of candidates running for the bench. This year, 57 judges ran for retention, and that didn’t include those running in subcircuits, countywide or for higher courts. Even practicing lawyers don’t know who all of them are, and average voters often base their choices on nothing more than a candidate’s name.
The results are abysmal. One veteran lawyer told us that about 25 judges now on the bench shouldn’t be entrusted with presiding over the issuance of wedding certificates.
Reformers have long called for merit selection of judges, with little success. But when the General Assembly reconvenes, other reforms should be explored. All of them would require a constitutional amendment initiated by the Legislature.
† No judge, no matter how incompetent, has been voted off the bench in 20 years. But simply increasing the percentage of “yes” votes required for retention to 65 would help. This year, three of the unqualified judges, including Brim, would have been retired.
† State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston), and others have urged creation of a commission that could give the best-qualified judges automatic retention. That would allow voters to focus on fewer candidates.
† A “local option” provision would allow Downstate counties, which have fewer judges, to keep the elected systems they prefer while Cook County switches to something more manageable.
In the meantime, here’s a reform that requires no action from Springfield: Major law firms and respected officeholders, such as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, should stop urging a “yes” vote for every judge of their party, regardless of how many folks some of those judges have victimized in the courtroom.