Belleville News-Democrat Editorial
February 7, 2016
Illinois state Rep. Charlie Meier has the right idea about closing the loophole those three slippery St. Clair County judges are using to avoid a run for retention. The Republican from Okawville’s House Bill 4673 has little hope for success against the three Democratic judges when the bill is judged by the very Democratic state House and Senate, but sometimes jousting with windmills can be a worthy quest just because it spreads the tale.
“The loophole these three judges have chosen to take advantage of certainly questions the integrity of the bench. It reminds me of musical chairs, however the music stops when these three judges say so,” Meier said.
St. Clair County Chief Judge John Baricevic, one of the trio, claims there is no loophole. His assertion is that the Illinois Constitution’s framers intended to create a process that tells judges “either retention or election — you choose, your Honor.”
No logical mind would create a retention system in addition to the election system already in place and say, “Pick one, boys.” If Baricevic really believes his little fantasy, then right there might be a reason for voters to question whether he is fit to sit in judgment of others.
“I guarantee it is not what the framers of the Illinois Constitution had in mind when they created the retention system for judges,” said John Pastruovic, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League. “It is clear that their intent was that judges, once they have served, should meet that higher standard of a 60 percent retention.”
Baricevic also claims a precedent, which those legal minds dearly love because it halts original thought and critical review. The precedent was former Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto, who in 2006 was the first slippery St. Clair County Democrat to bust that election-over-retention move when you don’t think 60 percent of the voters will keep you so you seek 50 percent plus one.
You have to give Cueto credit for being the first one smart enough to figure out the loophole. But regardless of the fate of the Meier bill, voters in November get the final say on doing the Cueto Shuffle with Baricevic, Robert Haida and Robert LeChien.
There are already alternate choices to Baricevic and LeChien. A Haida opponent would also send a message.