Dear Mr. Rauner,
A photo of you published on Nov. 5, 2014, with your completed ballot indicates that you voted "No" on every judicial candidate for retention to the Cook County bench, according to Republican Judge James G. Riley's letter to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin ( published on November 10, 2014, and enclosed here for your reference ). I, too, saw the photograph referenced by Judge Riley, and am disappointed to see that it confrrms his account.
This means you voted not to retain even the stars of the bench, the leaders and stand-outs, the innovators and those working to bring peace and resolution to families in our communities. Judges, perhaps more so than any of the elected officials in our state, have a direct and lasting impact on the lives of Illinoisans on a daily basiswhether it be petitioners in bankruptcy, divorce court, or child custody, or defendants in criminal cases or eviction proceedings. The issues our judiciary grapples with are deeply personal to the citizens of our state who deserve only the best on the bench.
Judge Riley's letter is correct: the 2014 class of retention candidates enjoyed better bar ratings than most previous classes; no 2014 candidate received less than 50% "Yes" recommendations from rating bar associations; and only eight of 73 had any "No" recommendations at all. Prior classes of retention candidates have usually featured at least one or two with 100% negative bar ratings.
One reason that I am conversant with these statistics is that I have been privy to the judicial evaluations process for more than four years as President of the Lesbian and Gay Bar Association of Chicago, and over nine years as a member. Our members, and the members of many other bar associations, spend hundreds of hours a year evaluating judicial candidates by reviewing detailed candidate questionnaires, seeking feedback from practitioners familiar with the candidates' practices, and conducting live interviews all in an effort to educate the electorate on the otherwise confusing process of electing judges.
Every retention cycle, roughly 20% of the Cook County electorate vote "No" on every judicial candidate up for retention. While an unfortunate reality in our electoral process, our elected leaders should not encourage this action by their own example. It is simply irresponsible to do so.
There are a number of viable alternatives you could have explored. Let me address a few.
First, you could have taken an opportunity to speak out on long ballots that are confusing to voters, and maybe ever lent support to efforts to make voter information more widely available.
Second, with a little information, you could have addressed the possibility of raising the bar for retention from 60% to 65% or even 70% to improve the chances of removing poor performers from the benchor at least creating the threat of job loss to inspire effort at better performance.
Third, you could have waded into the debate about whether judges should be elected at all, perhaps joining with politicians in other states in efforts to roll back existing voting opportunities, or better yet, working with legislators in Springfield to establish improvements to Illinois' system of electing judges.
Or, fourth, you could have just not cast votes in those races and pled ignorance.
But instead of these and other responsible alternatives, your vote risked chaos and the wholesale loss of a set of professionals who, for the most part, perform extraordinary service for the people of Cook County. Your decision to vote "no" on each and every judicial candidate demonstrates contempt for the judiciary, the volunteer attorney evaluators, and the electorate itself. I invite you to engage the Illinois bar to explain your vote. Perhaps you have thoughts about how the bar can work with the state to improve our judicial election process, and we would welcome your leadership on this issue. The system is far from perfectbut an irresponsible vote by the now-leader of Illinois only serves to exacerbate any problems, and sets a bad example of how to fix them.
Thank you for your time and attention. I am available and willing to discuss any of this if you are so inclined.
John L. Litchfield, Esq.
President, the Lesbian and Gay Bar
Association of Chicago