A simple proposal for Judicial Retention Reform

You might have missed it, but all of the Cook County judges who were up for retention this year won retention.  That is not unusual.  No Cook County judge has lost a retention election since 1990.

This year it seemed that there was a higher chance for one or more judges to be denied retention because of high profile stories in the news media.  One judge is on administrative suspension pending a ruling in her criminal assault case after she allegedly threw keys at a deputy at the Daley Center.  Her defense is that she was insane at the time.

Another judge was the subject of a Better Government Association/Fox 32 investigation for allegedly leaving court early to sun herself in her backyard (By the way, I personally believe that this particular story was not fairly reported but the perception remains and the bar associations did not recommend this judge).

The Chicago Tribune and other media outlets pleaded with voters not to retain these and other judges.  Some were not recommended for reasons including perceived lack of diligence, lack of judicial termperament and poor legal abilities.

Yet, as I have said, all judges were retained.  The three judges who were closest to losing their retention elections received roughly 63% of the vote.  Only 60% is required for retention. This 60% standard is designed to protect bad judges, not the public.

In my review of recent retention elections, I find that very few judges get less than 70% of the retention vote.  Many do better than 80%.  Typically, the ones who are not recommended by the bar associations and newspapers get in the 60s.

So my question to you is:  do we want to give a pass to lousy or mediocre judges, or do we want the best judges that we can get?

If the answer is the second option, then why not raise the retention rate to 70%, or at least 65%?  Clearly the 60% is not getting bad judges off the bench and does not provide enough of an incentive for judges to change their ways.  And I see no evidence that top-notch judges will be in jeopardy if the retention rate is raised.

By the way, this idea is not mine.  It was mentioned once by a Cook County judge.  One of the good ones, who wishes the bad ones would go away.

What do you think?

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