Illinois Courts Commission: A System Borne from Scandal

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The Illinois system of disciplining judges first was enacted in 1970, after two state Supreme Court Justices, Ray Klingbiel and Roy J. Solfisburg Jr., fell under scrutiny for having acquired shares in a new Chicago bank just before they took part in deciding a case in favor of one of the bank’s executives. At that time the Courts Commission, which had the power to discipline judges for misconduct, was under the state Supreme Court; Klingbiel was the head of the commission.

After an independent commission was created and built the case against the two justices, both resigned. The following year, a new Illinois Constitution took the disciplinary process out of the control of the state Supreme Court, establishing a system in which one independent agency, the Judicial Inquiry Board, would handle the investigation and then a second agency, the Courts Commission, would hold a public hearing and then impose punishment.

The investigating agency, the Judicial Inquiry Board, would include two circuit judges appointed by the Supreme Court, and seven members appointed by the governor: four non-lawyers and three lawyers, to include both Democrats and Republicans.

The Courts Commission, given the power to impose discipline, was to include a Supreme Court justice, two justices from the appellate courts, and two circuit judges.  And when controversy quickly flared over the first case the new commission decided – involving the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court allegedly using influence to avoid traffic tickets – voters in November 1998 approved a constitutional amendment that added two non-judges as additional members of the Commission.