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Vote 'Yes' for Kilbride; 'No' for 3 other judges

Every two years, Illinois voters get the chance to throw bad judges off the bench.

They rarely take advantage of it.

Lawyer associations spend countless hours every two years evaluating the judges and telling voters who are the stars to keep and who are the duds to dump. And every two years, voters usually vote to retain every judge.

Outside Cook County, business groups spend millions of dollars trying to persuade voters to dump good judges. On the Illinois Supreme Court, they're trying to get rid of Justice Thomas Kilbride because he believes the state's Constitution lets juries -- not legislators -- decide how much victims of medical malpractice should be awarded. Of course, rather than admit that's their real beef with the judge, they're pushing some bogus issue.

In Kilbride's case, business groups led by JUSTPAC are dubiously claiming in radio ads that Kilbride favors criminals' rights over victims. The ads are so blatantly misleading in their specifics that many radio stations have pulled them. In fact, the Illinois State Bar Association, the State Fraternal Order of Police and prosecutors all vouch for Kilbride.

We urge voters in the 3rd Judicial District, in Will County, to vote "Yes" to retain Kilbride.

In DuPage County, we urge voters in the 2nd District to vote "Yes" to retain Supreme Court Justice Bob Thomas, the former Chicago Bears kicker. And in Cook County, we unenthusiastically ask voters to vote "Yes" to retain Supreme Court Justice Charles Freeman, with the admonition that Freeman appoint higher-quality attorneys, and fewer old buddies, to vacancies on the circuit and appellate courts.

At the level of the circuit courts, Cook County voters face the usual onslaught of judges -- 68 this time -- up for retention. There are some stellar jurists in that mix and many more who are fair-to-middling, but at least three deserve to be dumped. They are Susan Jeanine McDunn, Dorothy Jones and James J. Ryan. We strongly recommend that you vote "No" on these three judges.

Susan Jeanine McDunn has been rebuked by an Illinois Appellate Court for conduct that, the court says, "disgraced the judiciary and the people of Illinois." Her offense was overruling an order by her presiding judge in an effort to derail an uncontested adoption by lesbian parents. The Chicago Council of Lawyers called her failure to follow adoption law ''unacceptable" and "well beyond the pale of appropriate judicial conduct." The council says McDunn continues to display an "inappropriate temperament" on the bench. The Chicago Bar Association concluded she "does not possess the requisite legal knowledge and ability" to serve as a judge.

Dorothy Jones' arrogant claim to fame every six years is to be the only judge who refuses to even submit her credentials to the bar groups for evaluation. But, then, perhaps she is well aware she would never make the grade.

James J. Ryan has similar deficiencies. The CBA says Ryan "does not possess the requisite legal knowledge, ability and temperament" to be a judge. The Chicago Council of Lawyers, commenting on the real reason Ryan was pulled from an assignment in the Bridgeview courthouse, writes, "He can be short-tempered on the bench, and some [lawyers] have characterized his judicial behavior as an embarrassment."

Shortly after he was elected to the bench six years ago, Ryan was questioned by lawyers about whether, as a top aide to his second-cousin Sheriff Michael Sheahan, he had helped deep-six an investigation into an alleged mass-beating of prisoners at the County Jail. Ryan, invoking his 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination, refused to answer most questions.