I write in response to two stories published Sunday that addressed the process in which circuit judges vote whether to retain sitting associate judges for new four-year terms.
The first story immediately set a tone that there is something wrong with the process, deeming it “insiders-only balloting.” This left readers with a perception that lacks the necessary context of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 39, which establishes this exact process for all circuit courts throughout the state.
The voting is by secret ballot, and judges cast their ballots in a process that is independently administered by the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts — an arm of the Illinois Supreme Court.
The second story targets several judges with a common theme that the judges had decisions reversed by the Illinois Appellate Court.
Well, that is part of the court process that plays out every day in the United States.
In matters before the trial and appeals courts, it is common that two competent lawyers will make different arguments based on the same set of facts and the law. The same concept applies to the judiciary, as a trial judge may make a decision that the Appellate Court reverses.
It’s also possible that the case will be heard by the Illinois Supreme Court, which may agree with the trial judge’s decision and disagree with the appellate court. And to further demonstrate the room for disagreement in the justice system, two state appellate courts may offer conflicting decisions on the same issue, which leads to the possibility that the Illinois Supreme Court will resolve the matter.
Neither Illinois Appellate Court nor Illinois Supreme Court decisions are required to be unanimous.
Our system of justice is built with all of this in mind, and it provides remedies for litigants to pursue when they disagree with court decisions and guidance on when those decisions are final.