I was originally going to write this post as an update about Will County Judge Joseph Polito, who appeared before the Illinois Courts Commission to defend himself against charges that he had not conducted himself in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary and that he brought his office into disrepute by allegedly attempting to access porn sites on his court computer. (By the way, the judge blamed a 60 year porn addiction for his problem).
But I was stopped in my tracks when I read the Sun-Times story, which concluded with the following paragraphs:
Ten colleagues on the Will County bench wrote to the commission urging leniency and praising Polito’s performance as a judge, and Polito also was backed at Thursday’s hearing by Judge Carla Alessio Policandriotes, who said Polito’s work never suffered, urging the commissioners to base their punishment on justice, not what “the media is . . . writing in their little notebooks.”
Will County’s Chief Judge Gerald Kinney tried for months to keep Polito’s identity secret from the Sun-Times, claiming that computer logs showing Polito’s porn use were “judicial records” exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. He was eventually overruled earlier this year by the Illinois Attorney General, leading to Polito’s unmasking.
The media, “writing in their little notebooks” is what brought the judge’s outrageous and undignified behavior to light. There is no reason that he should be allowed to wear a robe and dispense justice again.
I understand that Judge Polito’s colleagues want to support him in dealing with his addiction. I understand that he is embarrassed and humiliated by this being a public news story. But that is not the media’s fault; it is his own fault because of his own actions. He knew that when he was sworn in as a judge, he was obliged to uphold the highest levels of conduct. For a judge to blame the media for reporting this story is no different than for a guilty drunk driver to blame the cop that arrested him.
And this brought to mind another recent embarrassment for our judiciary: the bi-annual “retain all judges” campaign put forth by Cook County judges. In spite of the fact that several of their colleagues were not recommended by the various bar associations for lack of diligence, lack of judicial temperament, and lack of legal knowledge and ability; in spite of the fact that at least two of them had been arrested for criminal conduct while serving as judges; and in spite of the fact that one of those judges, who fit both categories tried to excuse her actions by claiming that she was “legally insane” — they all banded together to support one another.
What do these two situations have in common? Judges banding together to support fellow judges, bad eggs who tarnish their institution, instead of supporting the judicial system itself.
This is about avoiding accountability. Which is ironic, since judges are usually the final arbiter of accountability.
For our judicial system to maintain its status as the most ethical and high-minded branch of government, it is necessary that it have judges who are beyond reproach, who are thoughtful, sage, and composed. Judges should be exemplars in our society.
Unfortunately, this is how things are done in our State of Illinois. Cops look out for bad cops. Politicians support bad politicians. Fans cheer steroid-pumped baseball players who use cork-filled bats. And Judges look out for bad judges.
I am disheartened by the coarse actions of these judges. I think Judge Polito should go, Judge Policandriotes should go and Judge Kinney should go. They clearly hold the public in contempt — the public who pays their salaries (and ridiculously generous benefits).
And I think that the next time that a retention campaign begins, each judge running should state on the record whether he or she supports retention for all or for only the candidates who have been recommended by the majority of the major bar associations.