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More on Judging Judges



Dear editor:

On April Fool's Day you published a letter from Barry Miller, former president of the Chicago Council of Lawyers, in which Miller announced that the Council rates judicial candidates solely on the basis of ability, integrity and fairness. Therefore, Miller concluded, selection of judges should be taken away from the voters and given to people like him.

In fact, evaluation of judicial candidates by bar associations is just as biased and unreliable as election of judges by the voters. Personal prejudice and political ideology often influence evaluation of judicial candidates by bar associations more than any other factor. This can be objectively demonstrated.

For example, in every judicial election there are about a dozen candidates who are rated qualified by the Chicago Bar Association but unqualified by the Chicago Council of Lawyers. Obviously judicial evaluations are subjective since local bar associations never even come close to agreeing on them.

Also, the Chicago Council of Lawyers recently issued an evaluation of the Seventh Circuit (the local federal appellate court) in which every liberal judge was praised and every conservative judge was harshly criticized. Obviously the Council thinks that a liberal philosophy is necessary to be a qualified judge.

The subjective nature of judicial evaluations is shown by the fact that a single candidate will often be rated unqualified in one election but qualified in the next. For example, one highly respected judge was rated unqualified by the Chicago Bar Association when he first ran for the Circuit Court, but was rated qualified this year when he ran for the Appellate Court. How can the same person be unqualified for a trial court but qualified to be an Appellate Court justice?

Judicial evaluations by bar associations are biased as well as irrational. For example, one candidate for the Appellate Court this year had more appellate experience than any other candidate for the vacancy, was a supervisor of other appellate lawyers and had been chosen to brief the case of serial killer John Gacy in the federal courts. Nevertheless, that candidate was rated unqualified by the Chicago Council of Lawyers (although the Chicago Bar Association found him qualified). The problem from the Council's point of view was that the candidate was an assistant state's attorney and the Council is always suspicious of prosecutors.

The bar associations are dominated by lawyers from large LaSalle Street firms, another factor which biases their evaluations of candidates. For example, one candidate for judge was a supervisor in a prosecutor's office, was an adjunct professor at a local law school and had personally argued the cases of John Gacy and of Ukrainian refugee Walter Polovchak before the Illinois Supreme Court. That candidate was rated unqualified by the Chicago Council of Lawyers, largely because of adverse comments from some LaSalle Street attorneys who had been the candidate's opponents in a bitterly fought death penalty case.

The LaSalle Street bias of the Chicago Bar Association has caused it to make racist judicial evaluations. Few African American candidates for judge have had the paper credentials necessary to be hired by a large LaSalle Street firm, so a disproportionate number of African American candidates have been rated "not recommended" by the Association. That is a major reason why African American representatives in the state legislature overwhelmingly supported the creation of local subcircuits in judicial elections, a move which reduced the influence of the bar associations.

All this is why "merit selection" would be a cure worse than the disease. Letting the equivalent of bar associations choose judges would be like putting a fox in charge of a henhouse.

Kevin Sweeney

S. Dearborn

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