April 19, 2011

Fewer Oral Arguments Heightens Importance Of Appellate Brief

Here is a letter to the editor I submitted to Illinois State Bar Journal with my observations about an article in the April 2011 edition that disapproves of the declining number of appellate oral arguments.

To the Editor:

“Surviving the Death of Oral Argument” (sorry, subscription required) is misnamed. The article doesn’t contain ideas for how lawyers should proceed in their appellate practice in view of an established trend by courts to dispense with oral argument. Instead, the article bemoans the reality of fewer oral arguments, and criticizes the trend because, the author states, without a public oral argument judges may not be fully engaged.

We like to and should hold our judges to high standards. But at bottom, judges are paid public servants, elected to office by the same system we use to elect all politicians to other public offices. Taxpayers compensate judges to decide cases, conduct trials, and settle disputes. An unengaged appellate judge, irrespective of whether there is oral argument, shortchanges the public, especially the parties to a given dispute.

The appellate process should include oral argument when a judge wants the insights of counsel beyond what is contained in the briefs. But we shouldn’t have to entice judges to prepare for the decision-making process by conducting expensive proceedings that do not affect the outcome of the case.

Someone has to pay for “the public nature” of oral argument. When the government argues, taxpayers foot the bill. When a privately engaged lawyer argues, a client pays. Even in an uncomplicated case, those costs easily are thousands of dollars. Taxpayers and clients legitimately should question those expenses, especially when judges tell you that 85 to 95 percent of appeals are decided before a lawyer ever steps into the courtroom for oral argument, and irrespective of what the lawyer says. Tempting judges to become engaged — i.e., to do their jobs — does not justify the added costs to taxpayers and litigants to use our dispute resolution system.

So how does the appellate practitioner survive the death or oral argument? Write more readable and persuasive briefs. (Full disclosure here: My firm runs a service called AppellatologySM, an internet-based appellate brief conferencing service designed to help appellate lawyers write better briefs.) How you do that is a lengthy subject for another day. But goal number one has to be: Make sure your brief addresses all of the factual and legal questions a judge wants to know in order to rule in your favor. With fewer oral arguments, your brief may be your last and best hope.

Bookmark and Share

February 5, 2011

Rootin-Tootin Tootin

A couple of hundred years ago when I was a Big Law associate, a Big Law managing partner told me to “Toot your own horn, because nobody else will.” I thought of that the other day when I got a memo from the grand poobah of the Steven R Merican PC Unashamed-Toot-Your-Horn-Marketing Department. Although I’ve never seen him, so I can’t absolutely confirm this, I’ve been told the memo-writer over there wears particularly green eyeshades and is a resident of Chicago, although he lives elsewhere.

The memo directed all employees to toot whenever possible. “But,” I told Green Eyeshade, “tooting is not in my bones. I would rather talk about the law.” No matter, Green Eyeshade memo’d me. In a law firm the size of SRMPC, you must do your own tootin’. “So go toot.”

Well I’m a company guy, so here goes. ♪♪♪ The other day when the Chicago Tribune needed to understand the appellate process surrounding the Rahm Emanuel mayoral-candidacy lawsuit, the paper turned to the author of this fine appellate law blog for answers. You can read his nearly prescient observations here. And when KWQC HD television in Davenport, Iowa wanted to explain to its viewers what was going on in the appellate courts on the other side of the Mississippi, the station interviewed that same fellow. Demand for the interview is exceeding all expectations, and a digital version has unexpectedly become temporarily, Green Eyeshade hopes, unavailable. The station is searching the bowels of its archives for the interview. Illinois Appellate Lawyer Blog will post it upon receipt. (YouTube? YouTube? We don't need no stinkin …)

Bookmark and Share

January 10, 2011

Proposal For New Law School Model Would Improve Students’ Employment Prospects, Reduce Student Debt, And Make For Better Equipped Lawyers

Yesterday’s New York Times ran an article questioning the enormous loans many students need to get through law school, and how law schools game the school ratings. That’s news? Here is a letter to the editor I wrote today, suggesting a radical fix:

To the Editor:

“Is Law School a Losing Game?” begs the question: what do we do about the foolish amount of debt students must absorb to get through law school? The answer is: change the structure of law school and the requirements one must meet to practice law.

Law schools are ignoring the demands of lawyers’ clients ― lower the cost of your service. Most law firms have been busy trying to do that. Lawyers are struggling to deal with their labor costs, mostly because lawyers who just got their licenses have to figure out how to pay off student loans and law firms have to pay the new lawyers a sufficient amount to do so.

A dean of a Chicago law school recently told an alumni group that graduating students at that law school have an average $100,000 in school loans. That’s a lot less than the students you featured in your article, but still way too much for a novice who doesn’t add much value to the service lawyers give their clients. And clients have the final say.

Right now law firms are squeezed on both ends of the financial equation. Clients are unwilling to pay for new lawyers to learn how to practice law, and new lawyers require and demand more than law firms are willing to pay. The result is lots of new lawyers unable to meet the obligations of their school loans. Many are unemployable at the salaries they need to service student debt.

There is a way to fix the problem, but it will take courageous action by law schools, accrediting organizations, bar associations, law firms, and new lawyers. First we admit that for most lawyers grinding out three years of law school, supposedly to learn how to think like a lawyer (read: indoctrination), does no one any good. Students graduate still not knowing how to practice law; law firm-employers are frustrated by having to absorb more and more of new lawyers’ salaries; and clients are angry about paying what amounts to training costs and student debt for new lawyers.

Law school for students who want to practice law should be one calendar year. During that year, curriculum should focus on legal research and communication, and a fundamental core of study ― contract law, torts, property law, criminal law, procedure. Students can be given an option for an elective or two.

A mandatory apprenticeship at a law firm should follow graduation. That’s where new lawyers will learn how to practice anyway, not sitting in a classroom discussing cases that were decided decades ago in an obscure jurisdiction. Law firms should be allowed to pay their apprentices as much or as little as they want ― whatever the market will bear.

That approach will take the pressure off of students who have no way to get through three years of law school without mortgage-sized student loans, and they’ll get a more useful education. It will take a lot of pressure off of law firms that are absorbing a big chunk of new lawyer salaries into overhead. And it will go a long way toward relieving law firm clients of the financial burden of carrying new law firm lawyers.

Law schools especially won’t like this idea. They have institutionalized the three-year curriculum. Their income now depends on keeping students in classroom seats for three years. But law firm clients are changing their counsel-hiring models, and law firms are changing their business models to accommodate clients. It’s time for law schools to get the message, and share some of the financial pain the rest of the market has endured, and make some difficult changes, too.

Bookmark and Share

November 10, 2010

Term Limits The Lesson Of Attack On Kilbride’s Retention

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride won his retention election last week. About 65 percent of voters in his district voted to retain him. Now he has the option of serving another 10-year term. The lesson of this retention campaign is: The office of judge should have a term limit so judges can to use their powers to support individuals' and minorities' liberty.

The Kilbride retention vote caused a lot of hand wringing. Kilbride’s opponents were bashed for politicizing a process the pro-Kilbriders felt should be free from substantive criticism. Kilbride’s supporters said they didn’t like the way Kilbride was criticized for some of his judicial decisions. They shouted that Kilbride’s critics were besmirching “judicial independence” and “rule of law.”

But Illinois judges are political animals. The Illinois Constitution makes sure of that. Judges in Illinois are elected to the bench in competitive contests. And judges are required to stand before the people, who get to decide whether the judge should be retained. If a judge is not deciding cases the way the people want him to, the people can fire him. All it takes is a vote of 40-percent-plus-one to deny retention in Illinois.

The Kilbride retention campaign was remarkable. Illinois judges, and even less so supreme court judges, rarely are challenged in retention votes. But this time, Kilbride’s retention campaign brought an angry challenge led by the Illinois Civil Justice League, which advertised heavily against retaining Kildbride.

Many of the League’s advertisements criticized Kilbride for favoring criminals over law enforcement. But everyone knew the real reason the League wanted to deep-six Kilbride’s retention – he voted with the supreme court majority that ruled caps on jury awards in personal injury cases were unconstitutional.

A good deal of the media in Illinois did not like the League’s campaign. The League was scorned for making the vote a referendum on Kilbride’s substantive decision-making. But demanding special interests to stay out of the campaigns of judicial selection and retention is like asking a dog not to bark. The process of elections is political, and an organization that speaks for a group of citizens is well within its rights to participate in that process.

The League was criticized for smearing Kilbride with false advertising about his judicial record. No one likes to see deliberate lies during a campaign, and the point here is not to say whether the League’s ads were factually justifiable. But election campaigns get rough, and judges as politicians have to do more than claim judicial independence exempts their decisions from the rough-and-tumble of campaigns. If that were so, a judge’s decision-making, if anything short of felonious, couldn’t ever be questioned. And after all, the political process got them their robes in the first place. It’s less than earnest to say a judge’s job performance should not be subjected to the same process.

Citizens vote for judges for many of the same reasons they vote for executive and legislative candidates – a belief that the judge-candidate reflects our values. We hope judges will decide cases fairly given those values.

Judges do have an extra role that doesn’t encumber most other elected officials. If our three-branch system of government is to work, judges must assure that individuals’ rights are respected and they must protect against tyranny of the majority.

But even those additional burdens don’t give judges a pass on the politics of a campaign. Just ask the three supreme court judges in Iowa who lost their retention elections last week. The New York Times reported the three judges were targeted for their votes that overturned a law that defined “marriage” as being only between a man and a woman.

The Iowa Supreme Court voted unanimously against the anti-homosexual marriage law. So there was no strength in numbers in this Iowa retention vote. That makes one wonder about one of Kilbride’s arguments against the Illinois Civil Justice League. The pro-Kildbride campaign argued Kilbride should be retained because he voted with the majority of the Illinois court’s judges nearly 90 percent of the time. Somehow that was supposed to convince voters that Kilbride was a mainstream guy. Maybe he is, but it’s hard to see how mainstream thinking champions individual and minority rights.

Certainly judges can be stampeded out of office for making decisions that are unpopular with the will of the majority. Judges should have some protection against voter backlash for protecting individuals and minorities. That’s where the rubber meets the road when judicial independence is at issue. That protection should acknowledge that a judgeship is a political position. It doesn’t matter whether the judge is chosen by voters in a competitive election (Illinois, for example) or selected in a so-called merit selection system (Iowa, for example). Each requires judge-candidates to participate in political machinations.

There are two ways to lessen the political consequences to judges of acting as champions of individual rights. One is the way it is done in the federal court system – give judges lifetime tenure. The advisability of lifetime tenure aside, asking citizens to give up their ability to choose or at least retain judges is unlikely to happen.

The second method is at the other end of the spectrum. Term limits. If they were limited to one 10-year term, it would be a lot easier for judges to make pro-individual or pro-minority decisions. Judges wouldn’t have to worry about how they would retain their robes in the light of a decision that may be unpopular with the majority of voters. The question would be moot because they couldn’t stand for retention.

The office of judge carries enormous power. In our society, in which individual liberty is at the top of the value scale, the highest use of that power is to vindicate those liberty interests. Term limits will free judges to use the power of their offices to insulate themselves from electoral punishment by a majority that might want to stomp on individual rights. That would make for real judicial independence.

Bookmark and Share

January 16, 2010

Jurisdiction Okay Despite Candidate’s Appeal Under Wrong Rule

Mary Ann Aiello passed away with more than 29 months left in her term on the Winnebago, Illinois County Board. Theodore Biondo was appointed to fill the vacancy. By the time Biondo’s appointment went through there was less than 28 months left in Aiello’s term.

Under the Illinois Election Code, a person appointed to fill a vacancy completes the term if less than 28 months remain. If more than 28 months remain in the term, then the person appointed stays in office only until the next election. The next election was in 2008, but the Aiello term did not expire until late 2010. The question was when the clock started ticking – when Aiello passed away or when Biondo was appointed.

The Democratic Party submitted Carolyn Gardner as a candidate to run for the Aiello vacancy in the November 2008 election. Believing Biondo could complete Aiello’s term, and that there should not be an election for the seat until 2010, the Republican Party did not submit a candidate for the office. Nor did Biondo apply to run.

Margie Mullins, the County Clerk, sided with Biondo and refused to place Gardner on the ballot. So Gardner sued for a writ of mandamus to direct Mullins to do so.

The trial court agreed with Gardner and directed Mullins to put Gardner on the ballot. Biondi then entered the lawsuit and asked the trial court to direct that his name be placed on the ballot. But the trial court disagreed with Biondo, who then asked the court to reconsider and for a temporary restraining order to prevent the election for Aiello’s seat. The trial court denied both of Biondo’s requests.

Biondo appealed under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 307 [allowing interlocutory appeals of orders refusing restraining orders as of right]. Gardner asked the appellate court to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. One day before the election, the appellate court ruled in favor of Biondo, and stated his name should be on the election ballot. But by then it was too late to change the ballot. The election proceeded with Gardner as the only name of the ballot for the Aiello seat.

Gardner then appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. Her first argument was that Biondo’s appeal should have been thrown out for lack of jurisdiction. The supreme court agreed that Rule 307 was not the correct rule for Biondo to appeal under. Rule 307 applies only to interlocutory orders. But “Biondo filed a motion for a temporary restraining order after final judgment on the case had been entered [i.e., the order that was entered before Biondo intervened in the case]. Contrary to Biondo's argument, the filing of a motion to reconsider has no effect on the finality of an otherwise final judgment … Because final judgment had been entered, Biondo's appeal under Rule 307 was inappropriate as it was not interlocutory in nature.”

But Biondo’s error was not fatal to the appeal. The judgment Biondo contested, the supreme court stated, was final and appealable, so even though he used the wrong rule, there was appellate jurisdiction. Here’s how the Illinois Supreme Court explained it.


The appellate court has jurisdiction to hear appeals of final judgments … Because this appeal is from a final judgment, Biondo's appeal would have been proper if brought pursuant to Rule 301, as an appeal as of right … Further, instead of filing for a temporary restraining order, Biondo could have properly moved to stay the circuit court's judgment pending appeal pursuant to Rule 305 … Though the appellate court would have been well within its authority to dismiss Biondo's appeal for failing to cite the appropriate rule, his error was not sufficient to divest the appellate court of jurisdiction where the court otherwise had jurisdiction.

So Biondo got his day in court. But to no avail, because the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the time begins to run when the vacancy occurs, not when it is filled. Read the whole opinion, Gardner v. Mullins, No. 107707 (9/24/09), by clicking here.

Bookmark and Share

November 25, 2009

State Courts At Tipping Point Of Dysfunction?

The New York Times posted an editorial today agreeing with Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall that “because of budget cuts in tough economic times, state courts across the country stand at “‘the tipping point of dysfunction.’” The piece explains the results of budget cuts in different state courts, and concludes: “[A]t some point, slashing state court financing jeopardizes something beyond basic fairness, public safety and even the rule of law. It weakens democracy itself.”

Bookmark and Share

April 21, 2009

Illinois Election Board Tie Vote Dismissal Of Republican Party Complaints Reviewable By Appellate Court

The Cook County (Illinois) Republican Party filed eight complaints against various Democratic Party organizations and individuals asserting violations of the Illinois Election Code. The complaints were filed with the Illinois Board of Elections, which has eight members. The Board tied on each of the complaints, four to four, meaning there was not a majority vote on the question of whether the complaints were filed on justifiable grounds. Each complaint therefore was dismissed.

The Republicans filed a direct appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court, which is allowed by the Illinois Election Code. Because the Board did not state factual findings, the appellate court ruled that it did not have authority to review the question of whether the Republicans’ complaints had justifiable grounds to proceed.

Instead, the appellate court stated that its jurisdiction was limited to the question of whether the Board acted “contrary to law.” In this case, that meant assuring the actual vote count was accurate. The appellate court thus affirmed the Board’s dismissals.

The Republicans appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. The Democrats asked the court to dismiss the appeal because: (1) it was premised upon reviewing tie votes by the Board; but (2) the Board’s orders did not state they were tie votes, so the supreme court “must presume that the complaints were dismissed based on majority votes.”

The Illinois Supreme Court denied the request to dismiss the appeal. The court acknowledged the Board’s orders did not state whether they were based on tie votes, but:

Despite any shortcomings in the Board's final orders, we are not required to ignore the clear evidence of the tie votes in the hearing transcript … A review of the transcript of the closed preliminary hearing clearly indicates the Board voted four-to-four on each of the complaints. We will not disregard the clear vote shown in the transcript of the hearing absent plain evidence that it did not reflect the Board's true vote. While the final orders should have stated the complaints were dismissed for "failure to determine" that they were filed on justifiable grounds, that error does not conclusively show the complaints were dismissed by majority vote of the Board. Thus, we find the record establishes that these complaints were dismissed on tie votes. Given that finding, we deny the respondents' motion to dismiss the appeal.

The Democrats also argued that the Board’s vote was not reviewable by a court because “the Board’s exercise of judgment and discretion in its investigatory capacity must be ‘absolute, final and non-reviewable.’” The supreme court disagreed, and ruled that it had authority under the Election Code to review the Board’s tie vote. “The Board’s orders state they are ‘final and appealable.’ Hence, the orders are judgments of the Board. The [Republican Party] was adversely affected because the orders resulted in dismissal of its complaints without a public hearing. Those dismissals are, therefore, subject to judicial review under the plain language of section 9-22 [of the Illinois Election Code].”

Next up: The Illinois Supreme Court’s analysis of the standard of review of the Board’s dismissals. But if you can’t wait, click here for Cook County Republican Party v. Illinois State Board of Elections, No. 106139 (1/23/09

Bookmark and Share

April 16, 2009

No Appellate Standing For Knox County Employees Being Investigated; Appellate Court Lacks Supervisory Authority To Order A Special Prosecutor On Remand

This lawsuit grows from a political fight in Knox County, Illinois. After he took office as Knox County State’s Attorney, John Pepmeyer began an investigation into “improprieties” by current and former county employees of the county state’s attorney’s and sheriff’s offices. Two Assistant State’s Attorneys, Dean Stone and Michael Kraycinovich, were targets of Pepmeyer’s investigation. Stone and Kraycinovich in turn started their own investigation of Pepmeyer concerning allegations that he was guilty of sexual harassment.

Stone and Kraycinovich asked the trial court for appointment of a special counsel for their investigation into Pepmeyer. Pepmeyer asked the court for a special prosecutor for his investigation into Stone and Kraycinovich. The trial court appointed the Illinois Attorney General as special prosecutor of both investigations.

The trial court later modified the appointments. The Attorney General was left to investigate Pepmeyer. A former State’s Attorney for another county, William Poncin, was named special prosecutor to investigate “other Knox County public officials,” including Stone and Kraycinovich.

Pepmeyer appealed. He claimed that Poncin’s powers were too broad and infringed on Pepmeyer’ authority. While the appeal was pending, the Attorney General found there was no basis to investigate Pepmeyer − so the trial court terminated the Attorney General’s appointment.

Further complicating the case, Pepmeyer and Poncin brought the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor into the act. All three reached an agreement to divide their investigatory powers. Pepmeyer and Poncin then asked the appellate court for a “conditional remand” to direct the trial court to issue an order in accord with the agreement among Pepmeyer, Poncin, and the Appellate Prosecutor.

Stone and Kraycinovich objected to Pepmeyer’s and Poncin’s request. In response, Pepmeyer argued that Stone and Kraycinovich did not have standing in the appellate court to raise an objection or to participate in the appeal. Pepmeyer’s theory was that Stone and Kraycinovich lost standing when the trial court terminated the Attorney General’s appointment to investigate Pepmeyer.

The Third District Illinois Appellate Court ruled that Stone and Kraycinovich did not have standing in the appellate court “because they have failed to show an injury to a legally cognizable interest.” Nor did they have a sufficient “direct, immediate, and substantial interest in the subject matter” to give them standing as non-parties under the Illinois Supreme Court Rules.

The appellate court also denied Pepmeyer’s request for conditional remand “because a remand to the circuit court with directions to enter the proposed order would amount to an exercise of supervisory authority, which the appellate court lacks.”

Read the entire case, In re Appointment of Special Prosecutor, No. 3-07-0553 (1/29/09), by clicking here.

Bookmark and Share

October 20, 2008

“Downright Misleading” Constitutional Convention Referendum Ballot Prevails

The Illinois Constitutional Convention Referendum Case has been resolved – for the moment. An Illinois appellate court affirmed the trial court’s remedy for the “downright misleading” and unconstitutional ballot: hand out a flyer to voters telling them to disregard the referendum “Explanation” and “Notice” that are printed right on the ballot. (The two blog entries directly below give the lawsuit background and the legal problem.)

The bottom line is that citizens will vote on a ballot that a court has ruled is unconstitutional. This is a disaster for the Illinois referendum process. It is shameful testimony that the process for amending and formulating the core document that gives life to the government is not safe in the hands of politicians and their bureaucratic apparatus. It was folly ever to think otherwise.

Here’s what happened in the appellate courts last week.

On Thursday October 9, the voter group of plaintiffs, later joined by the Chicago Bar Association and Lt. Governor Patrick Quinn, asked for a direct appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois – that is, without going to the intermediate court of appeals. On Tuesday October 14 the supreme court denied the request in a 6-1 vote.

That killed any chance of reaching the supreme court in time for it to make a meaningful ruling before the November 4 election. The supreme court did not issue an opinion or otherwise state a reason for its decision not to take the case. Unless one of the justices talks about it publicly, we’ll probably never know why the court refused the case.

Minutes after being informed by the supreme court clerk that the motion for a direct appeal had been denied, I got a fax from the Illinois First District Court of Appeals. The appellate court ordered all parties to file memoranda the following morning justifying appellate jurisdiction. If the appellate court were to rule that it did not have jurisdiction, it would not rule on the propriety of the “flyer remedy.” This raised the possibility that neither the supreme court nor the appellate would rule at all.

The previously scheduled hearing in the Illinois First District Court of Appeals went forward on Wednesday the 15th. The court had scheduled the hearing for argument on the Bar Association’s motion to expedite briefing and ruling, and to prevent absentee, military, and early voting on the unconstitutional ballots while the appeal was pending. Instead, there were about two and one-half hours of argument on the appellate court’s jurisdiction and the substantive merits of the case.

First thing on Thursday October 16 the appellate court faxed its ruling. The request to prevent voting the unconstitutional ballot was denied. The trial court’s “flyer remedy” was affirmed.

The result was about as bad as could be for voters. Coming on the heels of the supreme court refusing to take the case, the voters are left with a ruling that allows voting on an unconstitutional ballot. That’s a tailor-made lawsuit that could question the fairness and legality of the referendum.

The government-engineered ballot brings more disgrace to a state government that has overabundant corruption. And for now, the government’s ballot, that improperly steers voters away from a constitutional convention, has prevailed in court.

Bookmark and Share

October 13, 2008

Constitutional Convention Vote Case Looking For A Decision In Illinois Appellate And Supreme Courts

The Illinois constitutional convention referendum is at a legal and electoral crossroad this week. The integrity of the referendum process, which is mandated by the Illinois Constitution, is at stake. Voters need speedy decisions if their constitutional right to a referendum free from underhanded politics is to be respected. The Illinois government apparatus is opposing the voters. The government essentially says that it’s too late to fix a constitutional problem it caused in the first place. The entry directly below describes the dispute. Here’s what’s happening in the appellate courts now.

The government defendants have until Tuesday October 14 to respond to the motion to expedite a hearing and asking to stay distribution of the illegal ballots. That motion was filed last week by plaintiffs, but there still is no ruling by the appellate court. The First District Illinois Appellate Court will hear argument on the motion on October 15. There’s no guarantee the court will rule at that time.

The voter group of plaintiffs’ motion for a direct appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court still is pending in that court. The Illinois Lieutenant Governor and the Chicago Bar Association, the other plaintiffs in this case, have joined the motion. The defendants also have until October 14 to respond. We’ve heard no word yet about whether the government will fight or support the motion for a hearing in the supreme court.

This motion could be even more important. The Illinois Supreme Court accepts only about 4.5 percent of discretionary cases, and very few of those are direct appeals from the trial court. Plaintiffs are asking the supreme court to take the case, even though it hasn’t been through the court of appeals, because of the importance of the issues and the decreasing time to formulate and implement a meaningful remedy. (The Chicago Tribune agrees that the supreme court should take the case. Click here to get the Tribune’s lead editorial in today’s edition.)

As absentee and military ballots continue to be distributed, each with the unconstitutional and “downright misleading” language, and people vote them, the cloud over the referendum increases. Voters need a decision on the merits, preferably from the Supreme Court of Illinois, as soon as possible.

Until that decision is made, the only way to stop compounding the problem of voters receiving and voting on constitutionally infirm ballots, is to stop distributing them. The government defendants won’t do that unless they are ordered to by an appellate court.

We’ll keep you informed how your appellate and supreme courts rule in the next few days, if at all.

Bookmark and Share

October 9, 2008

Trial Court Rules Illinois Constitutional Convention Referendum Allowed To Proceed With An Unconstitutional Ballot. Case Moves To Appellate Courts

Voters in Illinois will have a referendum at the November 2008 election on whether to hold a constitutional convention. The referendum, which comes up automatically every 20 years, is required by the Illinois Constitution.

Several days ago, the Illinois Secretary of State published a copy of the referendum ballot that will be presented to voters. Three groups realized there was inaccurate and inappropriate information on the ballot, making it unconstitutional. They sued in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois to have the unconstitutional language removed.

The plaintiffs in the case are: The Chicago Bar Association, Illinois Lt. Governor Patrick Quinn, and a group of Illinois voters. [Full disclosure here: I am one of the lawyers representing the voters in the appellate court proceedings.] The defendants are: Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White; the Illinois State Board of Elections; David Orr, as the Clerk of Cook County, Illinois; and the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

The plaintiffs filed their lawsuits last week. After a motion by the plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction the trial court agreed that parts of the ballot were “inaccurate” and “downright misleading.” On October 1, 2008, the trial court ordered a stay that stopped election boards throughout the entire state from mailing absentee and military ballots.

The court then heard legal argument and factual evidence about how the problem feasibly could be fixed. The plaintiffs argued that the unconstitutional statements should be eliminated from the ballots. They asserted that the optical scan and touchscreen ballots should be rewritten to comply with constitutional standards. The government defendants in essence argued that short of delaying the election, it was too late to do anything about it.

The trial court formulated a compromise remedy on October 6, 2008. A single-page flyer was devised that tells voters: “You will vote a ballot that includes a referendum asking whether Illinois should hold a state Constitutional Convention. The ballot contains a “Notice” and an “Explanation of Proposed Call” that a court has ruled is inaccurate and incorrect and should be ignored.” So the ballot that several million voters will see in the voting booth and on the absentee and military ballots still will contain the “downright misleading” and unconstitutional statements. In addition, the trial court lifted the stay, so more than 100 election boards throughout Illinois have begun mailing the absentee and military ballots.

All of the plaintiffs appealed immediately. Plaintiffs recognize that the passage of time works to the voters’ detriment − the closer we get to the election without an adequate remedy, the more inevitable the inadequate remedy and an unconstitutional referendum becomes. But the government attorneys would not agree to a sufficiently fast-moving briefing schedule. A day after filing the appeal, the plaintiffs filed an emergency motion in the Illinois Court of Appeals for expedited briefing and hearing, and to reinstate the stay against distributing the unconstitutional ballots. Yesterday the appellate court ruled that (1) the government defendants must respond to the emergency motion by October 14, 2008, and (2) oral argument on the motion will be taken on October 15, 2008.

The order is extraordinary. Letting a week pass before even considering a briefing schedule and the stay, the order endangers plaintiffs request to revise the referendum ballot. As of the moment, the government defendants do not have a date by which they must file a brief.

It appears the appellate court will not rule on the merits of plaintiffs’ appeal for at least another week to 10 days. Assuming the losing party then appeals to the Illinois Supreme Court, and that the court accepts the case, we really do get too close to the election for a timely fix to be put in place.

So today the voter group of defendants filed a motion to the Supreme Court of Illinois [Full disclosure here: I drafted the motion.] asking the court to take the case without benefit of an appellate court’s review. The general rule in Illinois requires most cases to go to the court of appeals before an appeal to the supreme court is allowed. But there is an exception for “cases in which the public interest requires expeditious determination.” The plaintiffs’ motion argues that the integrity of the Illinois Constitution and the referendum process are at stake, and that time the time for resolving the problem is dangerously short.

Plaintiffs hope the supreme court will accept direct review of the case. I’ll keep you posted on how the court rules and what happens as this case works through the appellate courts. I’ll link to the motion for direct review by the supreme court with a forthcoming post.

Bookmark and Share

July 24, 2008

Illinois Constitutional Convention Debate Broadcasting Live And Available On Podcast

At the November 2008 election, Illinois voters will get a once every 20 years chance to vote on whether they want to have a state constitutional convention. The question will be debated by pundit Bruno Behrend (proponent) and lawyer Al Salvi (opponent) on July 29,2008 at 6:00 p.m. Central Time. The debate will be broadcast live on WKRS 1220-AM. If you’re in the area, and you’d rather be there for it, the debate will be held at Austin’s Saloon & Eatery, 481 Peterson Rd., Libertyville, Illinois. The debate also will stream live at www.wkrs.com, and will be podcast later. Call-ins (847-336-1220) will be welcomed.

A most interesting appellate law blogger’s opinion piece that ran in the Chicago Daily Observer for why Illinois voters should vote in favor of a constitutional convention is available right here. And for historical perspective, listen to our podcast interview of Ann Lousin, a researcher at the 1968 constitutional convention, available here.

Bookmark and Share

December 9, 2007

Illinois Supreme Court To Post Oral Arguments On Web

Oral arguments in the Illinois Supreme Court will be posted on the web. The court announced in a press release on 12/7/07 that video and audio recordings of arguments will be available beginning in January 2008.

Posting arguments made in the court will slice some stealth from a primary branch of Illinois government. Most people only vaguely understand what happens in the Supreme Court. They never see a Supreme Court argument, never hear an oral argument, and never see an opinion written by the Supreme Court. People never see how their Illinois Supreme Court Justices, who are elected officials, conduct court or themselves.

Making oral arguments available to the public will direct some sunshine on a fundamental branch of government that ordinarily conducts business behind closed doors.

For more details, the court’s press release is available by clicking here.

Bookmark and Share

July 31, 2007

Podcasting Lousin Interview On Illinois Constitution And Constitutional Convention – Cutback Amendment, 2008 Referendum For Con Con, Caring About State Constitutions

In this Track 6, the final installment of my interview with Illinois Constitutional scholar Prof. Lousin, Ann wraps up her discussion of the Cutback Amendment. She also talks about the prospects for another Constitutional Convention in Illinois. (The question of whether to have a Con Con will be on the 2008 election ballot in Illinois.) And finally, Prof. Lousin tells us why, in an era of overwhelming federal control, state constitutions are important.

This track is 16 minutes 28 seconds. If you want to listen to the interview now, just click on the triangle on the left side of the bar right below. To download to your desktop, laptop, or iPod for later listening, click on the MP3 link directly below the bar.

The first five segments of this interview are available directly below.

I am planning to broadcast more interviews of notable people who will be of interest to lawyers. The subject matter I want to cover will concern appellate practice and Illinois constitutional matters. Drop me an email and let me know if you like or dislike this format, or if you have suggestions about subjects or individuals you’d like to hear. (And don’t worry, I’ll get better at asking the questions.)


Interview with Prof. Ann Lousin re Illinois Constitution and Constittutional Convention


MP3 File

Bookmark and Share

July 29, 2007

Track 5 Of Professor Lousin On The Illinois Constitution Now Podcasting -- The Lock Step Doctrine, The Cut Back Amendment, Initiative and Referendum

In this fifth, and next to last, track of an exclusive interview, Professor Lousin discusses the contours of the Lock Step Doctrine, particularly how the Illinois Supreme Court has applied it to the right of privacy written into the 1970 Illinois Constitution. Professor Lousin also discusses the limited right Illinois citizens have to amend the Illinois Constitution by initiative and referendum, and the Cutback Amendment, the only amendment proposed by initiative that has passed a court challenge. The Cutback Amendment dramatically changed electoral politics in Illinois.

Track 5 is just over 12 minutes. If you want to listen to the interview now, just click on the triangle on the left side of the bar right below. To download to your desktop, laptop, or iPod for later listening, click on the MP3 link directly below the bar.

The first four segments of this interview are available directly below.

I am flattered to tell you that Mazyar Hedayat, who writes the excellent Practice Management Blog, has placed an RSS feed of these podcasts on his blog. Now it’s simple as pie — just a couple of clicks — to listen to the podcast and read the Practice Management Blog. Look for the podcast link on the lower right of the Mazy’s blog.


Prof. Lousin interview re Illinois Constitution and the Illinois Constitutional Convention


MP3 File

Bookmark and Share

July 26, 2007

Prof. Lousin Discusses The Illinois Constitution. Now Podcasting Track 4 Of Exclusive Interview.

We continue our first podcast interview with Professor Lousin. This track contains Professor Lousin’s thoughts on the Illinois Constitution’s clauses on the Amendatory Veto, ratification of federal constitutional amendments, and the right to bear arms. There also is discussion of how the courts have interpreted Article I of the Illinois Constitution concerning discrimination and the Illinois Equal Rights Amendment.

Track 4 is a touch over 9 minutes. If you want to listen to the interview now, just click on the triangle on the left side of the bar right below. To download to your desktop, laptop, or iPod for later listening, click on the MP3 link directly below the bar.

The first three segments of this interview are available directly below.

Interview with Prof. Ann Lousin re Illinois Constitutional Convention and Illinois Constitution


MP3 File

Bookmark and Share

July 23, 2007

Podcasting Track 3 Of Lousin On The Illinois Constitution And 1968 Constitutional Convention

On Track 3, Prof. Ann Lousin answers questions about the Illinois Constitution and the 1968 Illinois Constitutional Convention. This portion of the interview focuses on: the ideology of the 1970 Constitution; education in the Constitution; and questions concerning voting by convicted felons, gubernatorial pardons, and the amendatory veto.

Track 3 is 7 minutes 18 seconds. If you want to listen to the interview now, just click on the triangle on the left side of the bar right below. To download to your desktop, laptop, or iPod for later listening, click on the MP3 link directly below the bar.

The first two segments of this podcast are directly below, the entries dated July 19 and 21, 2007.

Interview with Prof. Ann Lousin re Illinois Constitution and Constitutional Convention.


MP3 File

Bookmark and Share

July 21, 2007

Lousin Remembers The Illinois Constitutional Convention

In this second of six segments of an exclusive interview, Professor Ann Lousin talks about the characters who were involved in the 1968 Illinois Constitutional Convention. Who were the delegates? Who were the movers and shakers? And what role did the independent Democrats from Chicago play?

This track is 7 minutes 55 seconds. If you want to listen to the interview now, just click on the triangle on the left side of the bar right below. To download to your desktop, laptop, or iPod for later listening, click on the MP3 link directly below the bar.

The first segment of this interview was posted on July 19, 2007, and is available directly below.


Interview with Prof. Ann Lousin Track 2 re Illinois Constitution and 1968 Constitutional Convention


MP3 File

Bookmark and Share

July 19, 2007

Interview With Professor Ann Lousin Now Podcasting

Professor Ann Lousin is among the finest people I have known. Lucky for us she also is among the true experts on the Illinois Constitution. Soon after her academic studies, she was a researcher at the 1968 Illinois Constitutional Convention. In this first audio podcast on illinoisappellatelawyerblog.com, Ann talks about the '68 Convention and the surrounding politics, the Illinois Constitution and how it has been interpreted, and the prospects for another constitutional convention. (The question of whether to have a constitutional convention will be on the 2008 general election ballot in Illinois.)

This interview is broken into six segments. This Track 1 is 7 minutes 30 seconds, and focuses on the social and political climate in Illinois that gave rise to the '68 Convention.

I am planning to broadcast a new segment of this interview every other day or so for the next 10 days.

Quick housekeeping note. If you want to listen to the interview now, just click on the triangle on the left side of the bar right below. To download to your laptop or iPod for later listening, click on the MP3 link directly below the bar.

Interview with Prof. Ann Lousin Track 1 re Illinois Constiutional and Constitutional Convention


MP3 File

Bookmark and Share

July 5, 2007

Illinois Supreme Court Finds Substantial Compliance Of Chinese Language Referendum Despite Inexact Translation

A referendum was held to determine whether the voters wanted liquor to be sold at retail in their precincts. The ballots were printed in English, Spanish, and Chinese. These consolidated lawsuits considered whether the translation of “sale at retail” to Chinese was substantial compliance with the statutory requirements of the Illinois Election Code.

The supreme court applied different standards of review to different parts of the question. “We again note that different standards of review apply to the factual and legal components of this issue. While the ultimate legal question of whether the use of the character xiao shou was in substantial compliance with the Act is reviewed de novo, the underlying factual matters will be reviewed under a manifest weight of the evidence standard.”

This method of analysis makes more sense than — as I suspect other courts would have done — using the “mixed question of law and fact” standard of review. That standard, which looks more and more to represent a failure to face the more difficult analysis posed by the dual standards of review the court used here, asks whether the trial court’s decision was “clearly erroneous.”

In the end, the Illinois Supreme Court allowed the referendum results to stand. You can read the whole opinion in Samour, Inc. v. Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago, Nos. 101902, 102227 (1/19/07), by clicking here.

Bookmark and Share

July 2, 2007

Illinois Supreme Court Spanks Trial Court And Chicago Elections Board For Ruling Statute Unconstitutional

In twin cases, former aldermen Virgil Jones and Ambrosio Medrano, both convicted of federal felonies for misconduct in office, filed nomination papers to run for alderman again. Challenges were made to their nomination papers on the basis that the Illinois Municipal Code prohibited convicted felons from serving in an “elective municipal office.”

In both cases, the Chicago Election Board’s hearing examiner concluded that Jones and Medrano were ineligible to serve, and recommended that they not appear on the election ballot. Appeals were made to the Chicago Election Board. In both cases, the Board rejected the challenges because, it said, the statute prohibiting convicted felons from serving in an elective municipal office was unconstitutional. The challengers sought review in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. In both cases, the circuit court affirmed the ruling of the Board.

The challengers sought direct review in the Illinois Supreme Court. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeals, stating that the cases were more appropriately handled by supervisory orders than by direct appeal.

The supreme court ruled that the Chicago Board of Elections did not have authority to consider the constitutionality of the Illinois statute. The orders by the Board rejecting the challenges to Jones and Medrano therefore were void.

The Illinois Supreme Court then ruled that the circuit court improperly affirmed the Board. The supreme court stated that the circuit court should have vacated the Board’s ruling and sent the case back the Board to rule in conformance with the statute that prohibits convicted felons from holding office. “Had the done that here, it [circuit court] would have had no need to address the merits of the Election Board’s constitutional analysis. Without a ruling of the constitutionality of the statute, there would in turn, have been no basis for seeking direct review by our court under Rule 302(a).”

For good measure, the Illinois Supreme Court found two more reasons that the circuit court’s “resolution of this case is fatally infirm.”

• First, the circuit court did not comply with Supreme Court Rule 18, which requires “that the circuit court state in writing that the finding of unconstitutionality is necessary to the decision or judgment rendered and that such decision or judgment cannot rest upon an alternate ground.” The supreme court stated that the non-constitutional flaw was not mentioned in the circuit court’s ruling.

• The Supreme Court was miffed that the Circuit Court of Cook County ignored controlling precedent from the Fifth District Court of Appeals. Using colorful language, the supreme court made it clear that the circuit court was not at liberty to ignore the Fifth District. “Although Hofer was decided by a panel of the appellate from the Fifth District, not the First District, where the Circuit Court of Cook County is located, that is of no consequence . . . The notion that the circuit courts are bound only by the appellate court decisions from their own district is a relic of the pre-1964 Illinois Constitution of 1870 and has been expressly disavowed by our court . . . Until this court says otherwise, an appellate court’s decision must therefore be followed regardless of the appellate court’s district.”

The Illinois Supreme Court chose to rule by supervisory order rather than issue an opinion through the normal course. Although supervisory orders are disfavored, it was appropriate in this case because “the manner in which this case was handled presents important issues regarding the administration of justice, and direct and immediate action is necessary to insure that the Election Board adheres to the law and that any challenge to its decision in the circuit court comports with controlling principles of judicial review.”

Both of these cases were decided by four justices. Justices Thomas, Freeman, and Burke took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases. You can have the full opinions in each case by clicking on the case citation links: Bryant v. Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago, No. 104105 (2/23/07); Delgado v. Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Chicago, No. 104112 (2/23/07).

Bookmark and Share

June 15, 2007

Illinois Judicial Campaign Regulation Bill Dead For Now

A bill that would establish public funding for campaigns for Illinois appellate and supreme courts stalled at the end of the General Assembly Spring session. I've reported occasionally about the status of SB 0222. The bill would give primary winners for the appellate and supreme court seats public money for their campaigns, and also would also set contribution limits for all judicial campaigns. The bill made no provision for funding for independent or third party candidates.

When the General Assembly session ended on May 31, 2007, the bill was re-referred to the Senate Rules Committee. A 60 percent supermajority vote will be required to pass the bill this year. However, the bill can be filed next year, when passage again will require a simple majority vote. We're safe − for now.

The full text of the bill is right here.

Bookmark and Share

May 28, 2007

Judicial Campaign Regulation Bill Advances To Illinois House

Earlier this month, SB 0222, the bill to regulate judicial campaigns by institutionalizing public funding for appellate and supreme court seats and limiting contributions to all candidates passed in the Illinois Senate. The vote was 46 to 12. Click here to see the vote.

The bill is pending in the House Executive Committee and has an action deadline of May 31, 2007. The House bill has a 22 sponsors .

The bill would provide funding for candidates of major parties who are running for the Illinois Appellate Court ($250,000) and the Illinois Supreme Court ($750,000). The bill also allots money to primary candidates who meet certain baseline support criteria. It also caps contributions by individuals to a judicial candidate (circuit court included) to $2,000 per election period.

The public funding component of the bill provides money in general elections only to winners of primaries. There is no allowance of funds for independent or third-party candidates, making this bill a clear attempt to assure that judicial power remains in the hands of the two existing major parties. Click here to see the bill.

Bookmark and Share

April 20, 2007

Chief Judge’s Libel Action Ill Advised

In Illinois, judges are elected officials. They campaign for office, just like every other politician. Once elected, their actions are subject to political analysis and opinion, including conjecture and speculation, just like every other politician. No politician likes that, but two governing principles allow it: the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the common law rule of tough. If you’re stepping in the ring, you better be able to take a shot to the kazoo.

In 2003, the Kane County Chronicle, a smallish newspaper with a circulation then of about 12-13,000, ran a series of opinion pieces that suggested Supreme Court Justice Robert Thomas traded his vote in an attorney disciplinary matter for political favor.

This grew out of the Anne Gorecki fiasco. Gorecki, formerly the Kane County State’s Attorney, reportedly put the arm on a job-seeker for a political contribution. She was brought before the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission for her faux pas. The matter eventually worked its way to the Illinois Supreme Court, which inspired the Chronicle’s series.

Justice Thomas was unhappy about the statement of vote trading, so he sued the author and the newspaper for libel. A jury returned a verdict in favor of Justice Thomas − $1 million for personal embarrassment, mental suffering, and humiliation; $1 million for future economic loss; $5 million for damage to reputation. That’s a lot of humiliation and reputation considering the diminutive circulation of the Chronicle.

On April 11, 2007, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin reported that a defense motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict for future loss of income was granted. The trial court found future damages to be too speculative. The Law Bulletin also reported that a $2 million remittitur was entered on the verdict for damage to reputation because $5 million shocked the judicial conscience. (The Kane County Chronicle reported that Justice Thomas would not appeal.)

Justice Thomas certainly had the legal right to sue if he had sufficient evidence of libel, which the jury told us he did. He’s a citizen who sought redress and compensation for being wronged.

The more important question, the public issue, is whether he should have sued. Was it the right thing to do? Should a chief justice of the state supreme court use the system over which he presides as a vehicle to vindicate a charge of political wrongdoing? Should a chief justice use the courts to seek compensation for a libel by a newspaper columnist who wrote about a political situation?

Justice Thomas should have looked the other way. Our court system is weaker for this lawsuit. Our courts differentiate us from other societies in which the people do not have a true institution to redress wrongs and resolve disputes. For the courts to function and fulfill their role in a relatively free society, citizens must hold a modicum of respect for the courthouse. The people have to believe that the courthouse is open to everyone, and that what takes place inside does not depend on political power. If citizens do not accept the court as legitimate, if they view it skeptically and cynically, then the institution fails in its role as a place to resolve citizens’ disputes.

The public perception of the court as a bedrock institution is diminished when the judge in charge of the highest and most prestigious court uses the system for his personal advantage. There were no physical personal injuries, no damage to real or personal property, resulting in the kind of losses that might justify a lawsuit by the Chief Justice. The kind of damage in Justice Thomas’s case arose out of his position as a politician. That’s better left to be resolved by the court of public opinion, not the court to which the people elected him and that he now administers.

I’m not criticizing the verdict. More often than not, juries get it right when they’re given true and sufficient evidence. So let’s assume Justice Thomas had a legitimate beef. He still should have taken a pass on the lawsuit. He should have looked past the “embarrassment and humiliation” he says he suffered and treated the newspaper columns the same as any negative political criticism from a writer in a small-circulation newspaper. The public would have been better served, and our court system would have avoided the perception of erosion.

You could argue that Justice Thomas’s lawsuit has a positive effect on the public’s perception of the courts. That is, by exposing the political columns as lies, the public is assured that the office of Chief Justice is clean.

But this lawsuit didn’t accomplish that. As a matter of law, all the lawsuit did was show that the Chronicle’s articles were published with malice − that the paper and the columnist knew or should have known the statement accusing Justice Thomas of trading his vote for a political favor was untrue. There has been no groundswell of support for the verdict or of condemnation of the newspaper.

The problem is that the verdict is a product of the system over which the Chief Justice rules. It leaves the same feeling you would have if the governor won the lottery. Rather than vindicate the office, the lawsuit and the verdict give the Illinois public, already fatigued and cynical from incessant charges of political wrongdoing, something else to sneer about.

This is a lawsuit that never should have happened.

Bookmark and Share

March 1, 2007

Illinois Campaign Regulation Bill Advances

Illinois Senate Bill 0222, which would give public money to primary winners for their campaigns for appellate and supreme court seats, advanced out of committee to the full Senate today. The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin reports (subscription required) that the bill was unanimously passed by the Senate Local Government Committee. The General Assembly web site shows the bill will receive a second reading tomorrow.

Since I reported on the bill on February 22, the bill has picked up five additional sponsers: Sen. John Cullerton (D-6th), Sen. David Koehler (D-46th), Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-33rd), Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-12th), and Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-32nd). There now are 11 sponsors.

For my earlier reports on this bill, see my February 7, 14, and 22 entries listed under Politics? The bill would give each primary winner $750,000 of public money to run for a supreme court seat, and $250,000 for an appellate court seat contest. The bill does not make a provision for independent or third (minor) party candidates.

Bookmark and Share

February 22, 2007

Update On Illinois SB 0222, The Illinois Judicial Campaign Regulation Bill

Since I last reported on SB 0222 on February 14, the bill has picked up three additional sponsors: Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16th), a Chief Co-Sponsor; Sen. Susan Garrett (D-29th), a Chief Co-Sponsor; and Sen. William Delgado (D-2nd).

Yesterday the bill was referred to the Senate Local Government Committee, which has scheduled a hearing on the bill on February 28, 2007 at 1:00 p.m. at the Capitol Building in Springfield, Illinois.

See my explanation of the bill, and how it ignores and thus makes election of independent and minor party candidates much harder, at the February 14, 2007 entry just below.

Bookmark and Share

February 14, 2007

More On Illinois Judicial Campaign Finance Regulation Bill

I first wrote about the pending Illinois Senate bill to provide public financing for appellate and supreme court judicial candidates a few days ago. It’s SB0222, filed by Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13th) (Chicago), on February 7, 2007. The bill has bi-partisan sponsorship; a chief co-sponsor is Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-24th) (Minority Whip from DuPage County). Another chief co-sponsor is Sen. Don Harmon (D-39th) (Oak Park).

The bill sets up a process by which major party candidates can obtain public financing for their campaigns for appellate and supreme court seats. Under SB0222, candidates do not have to accept public money, but if they do there are strict limits on fundraising and expenditures. If a candidate accepts the public money — $250,000 for appellate court candidates for the general election; $750,000 for supreme court candidates — then private donations to the campaign are limited to $100 per contributor. A candidate may not put more than $10,000 of his or her own money, including money from his or her immediate family, into the campaign, and may not make a loan to the campaign.

The bill contains a detailed regime for fundraising and for institutionalizing the “Illinois Judicial Election Democracy Trust.” The Trust, which would operate under the governance of the State Board of Elections, will dole out the campaign money.

To qualify for public money for the general election, a candidate must win the party primary. Because the bill will provide money only for primary winners, it excludes independent candidates and candidates from third (minor) parties, neither of which are mentioned in the bill. That smacks of unfairness, if not unconstitutionality. So maybe instead of the “Democracy Trust,” it ought to be called the “Trust To Ensure Power Remains With The Two Major Parties.”

The bill also would create a new section to the Illinois Election Code entitled “Judicial Campaign Contribution Limits.” This section includes candidates for the circuit courts. Among other things, the new section would cap contributions by any one person to a judicial candidate at $2,000 per election period.

This cap acts as a double-whammy against independent and third party candidates for appellate and supreme court seats. In the first instance, they are ineligible for public financing. Then they are burdened with these contribution caps. That means an independent candidate must find 375 contributors to give the maximum of $2,000 to meet the $750,000 in public money available to a major party candidate for supreme court. An independent candidate for appellate court must get maximum contributions from 125 people just to get even.

This bill would force taxpayers to subsidize the campaigns of the major party candidates. And it will cost extra if you want to support an independent candidate.

The bill had a first reading and was sent to the Rules Committee. I’ll keep track of it and give you updates. You can read the General Assembly’s status by clicking here. Follow the link on the Status page for the full test, or click right here.

Bookmark and Share

February 7, 2007

New Bill Would Establish Donation Limits And Public Financing For Illinois Appellate And Supreme Court Races

A bill pending in the Illinois General Assembly would change financing and spending for candidates for the Illinois Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal. STLtoday.com today reports on a plan to allot $750,000 to supreme court candidates and $250,000 to appellate court candidates from a public trust fund. More details are available on the bill by clicking here.

Bookmark and Share

January 11, 2007

Wexstten Named To Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court

The Illinois Supreme Court named Judge James Wexstten to the Fifth District Appellate Court today. Here is the full press release.

Bookmark and Share

January 10, 2007

Guv Breaks Bread With The Supremes

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich visited the Illinois Supreme Court today, his first look inside the building. He was given a tour of the building and had breakfast with the members of the court. Read all about it in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (subscription required).

Bookmark and Share