Your November 28 issue contained letters concerning your November 7 story on IVI-IPO ["Fighting Over Scraps"]. We are writing to correct certain misapprehensions about judicial evaluations in general, and those of the council in particular.
The Chicago Council of Lawyers conducts judicial evaluations by reviewing a questionnaire provided by the candidate. An investigator contacts attorneys and judges both on and off the list provided by the candidate. A committee then interviews the candidate, and we try to confront the candidate with any concerns that the investigation has raised. The candidate's submissions and the investigation are then presented to the council's board.
The council bases its evaluation on established criteria, including legal ability, integrity, temperament, and independence. Candidates are not rewarded or punished for their political views.
We would like to clarify a couple of implications raised about the council's evaluations. The council has been charged, over the years, with being racist, part of "the Harold Washington organization," anti-Democratic, pro-Democratic, anti-Catholic, "liberal," and a bunch of other things. In our view, these charges have been made by candidates who have been unsatisfied with our evaluations. Past studies have shown that our evaluations have been fair to various groups. The council has tried to be hard (but fair) on all candidates because we believe judges have so much power that voters are entitled to insist that judges truly be qualified.
We also believe that each judge should be evaluated on his or her own individual merits. A corollary of this belief is that while the council has always supported increasing the number of women and minorities in the judiciary (and has had many women and members of minority groups as board members and officers), we do not believe being a woman or a member of a minority group, by itself, is a factor to be considered in evaluating a candidate. Indeed, much of the time the board does not know the race of a candidate.
Another corollary is that we do not believe that a lawyer should be favored for the bench merely because many of our board members would agree with his or her political views. A good state representative with "liberal" political views and an independent record may not have the legal ability to be a good judge. A liberal activist lawyer may not have the proper temperament. Similarly, many lawyers from a political background with which the council has disagreed have shown the legal ability, personal independence, and temperament to be very good judges.
These decisions are not based on the council's board's personal predilections. We have found over the years that lawyers and judges are willing to provide detailed information about the performance of judicial candidates--as long as that information is kept confidential. We do not, of course, accept a complaint from just one lawyer. But when the council has received many comments about a lawyer's legal ability, or temperament, etc, we do draw conclusions from those comments. After many years of evaluations, we can recognize patterns that are telling. (For example, positive comments from lawyers who've lost cases before a judge, or negative comments from winners, are particularly important.) The importance of these candid comments from lawyers and judges has been recognized by the Illinois courts, which have held that interviews conducted by bar associations in connection with judicial evaluations are privileged.
From this perspective, we have been disappointed that in the past few years IVI-IPO moved away from relying on the council's evaluations and has focused more on paper qualifications and political considerations. We hope that the IVI-IPO will change its practice and return to using more independent evaluations.
Martin J. Oberman
Chicago Council of Lawyers