Editorial: How to dump incompetent county judges
Editorials February 10, 2013 4:40PM
Judge Cynthia Brim in February | Sun-Times files
Updated: March 12, 2013 6:17AM
It’s too hard to get rid of incompetent judges in Cook County, so they stay put, administering their own brand of injustice day after day, year after year.
Two constitutional amendments are in the works in Springfield to fix that. Neither is perfect, but legislators should fine-tune them until they have the best possible answer for our broken system.
Under current rules, judges run for retention every six years. In Cook County, that means voters are presented with what some people call the “bedsheet ballot” — page after page of names they never heard of. Not surprisingly, even judges deemed incompetent by the bar associations get the 60 percent of votes they need to keep their jobs.
In November, the bar associations found that several judicial candidates didn’t belong on the bench, but all of them won retention anyway. Most notorious was Cynthia Brim, who beat the rap last week on battery charges by pleading insanity. Bar associations had found Brim, a judge since 1994, not qualified in every retention election since then, to no avail.
On Feb. 1, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) introduced a constitutional amendment that would create special commissions in each judicial circuit. The commissions would determine which judges were doing their jobs properly, and those judges wouldn’t have to run for retention. The handful of judges found unqualified still would take their cases to the voters, who with far fewer names to contend with might make wiser decisions.
A separate amendment proposed by state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-Chicago) would raise the percentage of yes votes needed for retention from 60 percent to two-thirds. Also, to be elected or retained, judges would need the support of at least five members of the seven-member Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois. This amendment is more likely to imperil good judges.
Kelly says she wants to get a conversation going on fixing this problem. The rest of the Legislature should join in and get the job done.