|Judicial Selection: How to become a Judge|
Becoming a Judge
CLICK HERE for the Judicial Selection and Retention Committee Policies and Procedures (updated July 2014)
CLICK HERE for the Lake County Bar Association supplemental application
CLICK HERE for the re-attestation of application
Have you thought about putting your name in for one of those Associate Judge positions? Have you noticed that the Lake County Bar Association (LCBA) announces ratings of the candidates for Associate Judge, and that most of the candidates receive ratings of "Recommended" or "Highly Recommended?" Very few candidates are rated "Not Recommended." Have you wondered how this evaluation process works? This article will explain the workings of the Judicial Selection and Retention Committee, and answer those questions.
The Judicial Selection and Retention Committee is a standing committee of the LCBA, and was created by the By-laws of the LCBA. The Committee has its own Rules and Regulations, which state that the purpose of the Committee is to investigate and conduct hearings as to the qualifications of candidates who seek judicial office. The Committee consists of fifteen members of the LCBA, all appointed by the President of the LCBA for staggered three year terms. One of the members serves as Chairperson of the Committee. Although it is a standing committee, this committee only meets when an evaluation needs to be conducted, and that occurs when a vacancy needs to be filled.
Here is how the process works: It begins when the Illinois Supreme Court authorizes the Chief Judge of the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit to post a notice of vacancy in the office of Associate Judge. The Notice gives attorneys living in the 19th Judicial Circuit 30 days to file an application with the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts. After the 30 days deadline, the Administrative Office notifies our Court Administrator of the candidates' names, and those names are then provided to the LCBA. The Executive Director of the LCBA reviews the list of candidates' names; and, any candidates who have not been previously evaluated are contacted and invited to submit themselves to the Evaluation process by the Judicial Selection & Retention Committee.
Candidates for Associate Judge are asked to provide a copy of the application they filed with the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts (AOIC) and are given a supplemental questionnaire to complete. The combined questionnaires call for detailed information about the candidate's personal and professional background. Detailed information on the candidate's education and professional history is requested. The candidate must describe the nature of his or her law practice and the types of cases he or she handled. Information about the candidate's trial experience is requested. The candidate must provide the names of cases taken to verdict in both jury and non-jury cases. Names of opposing counsel and the judge are requested. The candidate must provide the names and phone numbers of at least five attorneys and five judges who have knowledge of the candidate's character and ability. The candidate is asked to provide a statement as to why he or she is seeking to become a judge, as well as the reasons why he or she is qualified for judicial office.
When the completed questionnaire is returned to the LCBA Executive Director, the Chairperson of the Committee assigns a committee member the task of checking the candidate's references. All of the personal and professional references listed in the questionnaire are contacted and asked about the candidate's character and abilities. The task of vetting the candidate's questionnaire can be formidable, sometimes requiring the committee member to contact ten or fifteen different people within a very short period of time. LCBA members who are appointed to this Committee quickly learn that when they are assigned the task of vetting a candidate, they must drop what they are doing and give this task a high priority.
The next step in the evaluation process is an interview of the candidate by the Committee. The Committee meets before the Candidate arrives for the interview. First, the Committee members review the candidate's questionnaire. Then, the Committee member who vetted the candidate reports on the results of his or her investigation. Since the candidate provided us with the names of their references, one would expect to hear only glowing praise for the candidate. However, that is not usually the case, and we frequently encounter very candid comments from the references. The references realize the gravity of our work, and, in an effort to be forthright, they often express misgivings or concerns about the candidate's abilities or experience. After hearing the report from the Committee member who vetted the questionnaire, the candidate is invited to appear before the Committee for the interview.
The interview begins by asking the candidate to give an opening statement about the reasons he or she is seeking judicial office. After that statement, the Committee members, beginning with the member who vetted the questionnaire, ask questions of the candidate. The questions tend to focus on two areas of interest: the candidate's professional experience (or lack thereof); and, the candidate's motives in seeking judicial officer at this time in his or her career. When the Committee's questions have been answered, the candidate withdraws, and the Committee votes.
The Committee Rules call for the vote to be by anonymous written ballot. The members can cast one of three possible ballots: "Highly Recommended," "Recommended" or "Not Recommended." To receive an evaluation of "Highly Recommended" the candidate must receive that ballot from sixty percent of the members then voting. A candidate who does not receive an affirmative of at least 60 percent of the "Highly Recommended" or "Recommended" ballots shall receive a "Not Recommended" evaluation. If a committee member casts a "Not Recommended" ballot, then the member must state the specific reasons for that vote on the ballot.
Following the meeting, the Chairperson immediately notifies each candidate of the Committee's evaluation. Candidates who received a "Not Recommended" rating have an election; under the Committee Rules, those candidates may elect to withdraw their candidacy. If he or she withdraws, then the "Not Recommended" rating is not published.
This procedure explains why so few "Not Recommended" candidates appear in the LCBA press release. Most of these candidates withdraw their candidacy. Candidates who received a "Highly Recommended" or "Recommended" rating are not given the option of withdrawing their candidacy, and their evaluations are published. Once a candidate receives an evaluation, that rating remains with the candidate for three years. If the three years expire, the candidate must be re-evaluated.
We are called upon to assess the qualifications of many capable lawyers, and to predict their performance as Judges. In large part, we use past performance as the best predictor of future performance. However, we also consider the candidate's presentation during the interview. We are often surprised by how much candidates reveal about themselves during those brief interviews. By combining the information contained in the questionnaire with the findings of the committee member's investigation, and then gathering our impressions in the interview, we are well-positioned to make an assessment of the candidate. However, we remain mindful of Yogi Berra's observation: "Making predictions is hard, especially about the future."
Serving as a member of the Judicial Selection & Retention Committee can be very demanding of our time; but, all of us believe that we are making a real contribution back to the La1ce County Legal Community, and to the people who will be served by our future judges.
Originally written by:
Updated in October 2009 by:
Hon. Stephen Walter (ret.), Chairperson (2009)
Frequently Asked Questions
If I am running for elected office am I required to appear before the LCBA Judicial Selection and Retention Committee?
No. Candidates for elected Judicial Office are invited to participate in the evaluation process, but not required. If they select to participate they must complete and submit the AOIC Associate Judge Application and the LCBA Supplemental application by the deadline established by the JSRC to the LCBA Office. All rules of the JSRC apply to these candidates. The failure or refusal of any candidate to fill out or to complete the prescribed questionnaire and authorization, and release forms within the time prescribed by the Committee may result in the Committee making a finding without any further investigation or hearing. Such a finding shall have the same force, effect, and duration as a finding made pursuant to Rule 17 after investigation and hearing.
I currently have a rating from the JSRC for the office of Associate Judge. May I use this rating in a campaign for another office?
YES. You may use the rating through its expiration date (3 years from the date obtained) as long as you indicate the position for which you were rated. Sample language: "Reccommended for Associate Judge by the Lake County Bar Association"
May I use the Lake County Bar Association logo in advertising my rating?
Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 February 2012 09:54