The seven members of the Illinois Courts Commission have one of the easier state appointments these days.
Members of the courts commission, one of two bodies created by the Illinois Constitution to police judicial conduct, have nothing to do. The commission is charged with dispensing discipline to errant judges, based on complaints filed following investigations by the Judicial Inquiry Board.
But once the commission issued a censure last month to Cook County Circuit Judge Beatriz Santiago, that left it with no outstanding complaints against any of the roughly 950 trial and appellate court judges across Illinois.
Complaints since 2015: 1
2016 Budget: $664,400
Spending per judge: $699.37
The lack of public cases against judges stands in sharp contrast to other large states. Officials in other states surmise that the cause is not that judges are more honest in Illinois.
“I don’t think our judiciary is any more prone to do inappropriate things than the judiciary in Illinois,” said James C. Schwartzman, chair of the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania, which has brought charges against 15 current and former judges since Jan. 1., 2015: A Supreme Court Justice, four trial court judges, four traffic court judges and six magistrates.
In the same period of time, the complaint against Santiago is the only one the inquiry board in Illinois has filed.
Complaints since 2015: 15
2015-16 Fiscal Year Budget: $1,956,000
Budget spending per judge: $1,838.35
Complaints since 2015: 8
2016 Budget: $1,012,411
Budget spending per judge: $1,023.67
Complaints since 2015: 5
2016 Fiscal Year Budget: $535,380
Budget spending per judge: $821.23
Complaints since 2015: Not available
2016 Fiscal Year Budget: $2,815,884
Budget spending per judge: $2,790.77
Complaints since 2015: Not available
2016 Fiscal Year Budget: $231,071
Budget spending per judge: $304.84
The Judicial Inquiry Board in recent years received more than 500 complaints per year, which the board uses to launch investigations in addition to taking on cases of its own, often following publicity. Many of those complaints are from disappointed litigants, including prisoners, who relate grievances that may not amount to violations of the judicial code.
To handle its work, the agency has a staff of five: a lawyer/executive director, two investigators, an administrative assistant and a secretary. The Pennsylvania investigating agency, by contrast, has three investigators and six lawyers to review the work, in addition to administrative staff. The Pennsylvania agency’s budget is $1.956 million; the Illinois board has a $664,400 budget.
Injustice Watch reported last November that Illinois officials were increasingly struggling with their constitutional duty of judicial discipline, with disciplinary action often slowly administered and usually mild.
No new public complaints have been filed since the November report. With the legislature in financial deadlock, and no budget approved in over a year, things have not improved.
“The financial situation of the state is adversely affecting everything, including the Judicial Inquiry Board,” said former Lake County Circuit Judge Raymond McKoski.
The board’s lawyer and executive director, Kathy Twine, said in an interview last week that because of the state’s fiscal situation, she did not want to comment on the Judicial Inquiry Board’s budget. But the shortage of money leaves Illinois far fewer people and money to police allegations of wrongdoing by judges, offering what appears an ideal time for judges to engage in misconduct.
Judicial investigations can be quite complicated, requiring months of work on a single case, noted Robert H. Tembeckjian, the administrator of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The New York agency has a budget over $5.6 million and a staff of 45. With only five people, Tembeckjian said, one complex case could leave a staff the size of Illinois’ “pretty ineffective to handle other matters.” The last annual report by the Judicial Inquiry Board was issued in 2012; last year, officials said a report would be issued this year. Executive Director Twine said the board performs its responsibilities “seriously and efficiently,” and said she still intends to produce an annual report.
The annual report offers the public a view of how many cases the board handles with private reprimands, and how many it reviews but closes with no action at all. Without that report, the public is left with no ability to see what actions the board is taking, noted former judge McKoski, who now teaches at John Marshall Law School.
In December 2013 Medill Watchdog and WGN Investigates jointly reported on questions surrounding the residency of Santiago, who claimed on mortgage refinance forms that the home she owned outside the boundary of her judicial sub circuit was her primary residence. That report led the board to issue its complaint against Santiago in February 2015. The Medill Watchdog/WGN report also raised questions about the residency of Cook County Circuit Judge Gloria Chevere, and the home she owned outside the sub circuit.
In 2014, Medill Watchdog/WGN Investigates reported on a series of cases in which Chevere held young men in contempt of court, and ordered them jailed, for wearing sagging pants in her courtroom.
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans removed Chevere from her courtroom following those reports, but no public action has been taken by the Judicial Inquiry Board.
“The public has no idea on whether they gave her a raise or a promotion or an admonishment or said it was okay,” McKoski said of Chevere. “The confidentiality has adverse consequences, and that is the public is not informed.”
Evans also removed Markham Judge Valarie Turner from her courtroom last month after she permitted a judicial candidate, Rhonda Crawford, to make rulings on two cases, though Crawford, who is running unopposed, has not yet won a judicial seat. No board action has been taken in that case.
New York administrator Tembeckjian said the public trust is especially important in Illinois, given a history of public corruption. “A well-funded, active judicial disciplinary commission has a powerful deterrent effect on the judiciary, and at the same time it reassures the public that the watchdog is on the job and that misconduct will be investigated,” Tembeckjian said. “Without both…you’re really without an important check on judicial power and discretion, and I think that’s dangerous not only in the judiciary but in any public body.”
|Hover for state-by-state information.|
|State||Judicial Conduct Commission||Total authorized judges (** and attorneys) 2015||Spending per judge (** and attorney)||2016 budget||Staff||Public complaints brought since Jan. 1, 2015|
|Alabama*||Judicial Inquiry Commission||652||$821.13||$535,380.00||4 (three full-time, two part-time)||5|
|Alaska||Commission on Judicial Conduct||73||$5,653.42||$412,700.00||2||1|
|Arizona*||Commission on Judicial Conduct||443||$1,139.95||$505,000.00||4.5||9|
|Arkansas||Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission||250||$2,730.80||$682,701.00||6||1|
|California||Commission on Judicial Performance||1,798||$2,624.58||$4,719,000.00||20.8||3|
|Colorado*||Commission on Judicial Discipline||554||no budget available||Do not disclose||1.5||0|
|Connecticut||Judicial Review Council||232||$630.45||$146,265.00||1.5||Not available|
|Delaware*||Preliminary Investigatory Committee||123||no budget available||No annual budget||0||Not available|
|Florida||Judicial Qualifications Commission||989||$1,023.67||$1,012,411.00||4||8|
|Georgia*||Judicial Qualifications Commission||1,538||$344.88||$530,423.00||3||Not available|
|Hawaii||Commission on Judicial Conduct||79||$1,137.15||$89,835||1||0|
|Idaho||Judicial Council||143||$979.02||$140,000||1 (two part-time)||1|
|Illinois||Judicial Inquiry Board||950||$699.37||$664,400.00||5||1|
|Indiana*||Commission on Judicial Qualifications||412||$631.07||$260,000 (expenditures)||2.5||Not available|
|Iowa*||Commission on Judicial Qualifications||353||no budget available||No annual budget||1 (two part-time)||0|
|Kansas*||Commission on Judicial Qualifications||526||$49.65||$26,117||1||Not available|
|Kentucky||Judicial Retirement and Removal Commission||282||$1,356.38||$382500 (2014/2015)||2||4|
|Louisiana*||Judiciary Commission||1,009||$2,790.77||$2,815,884 (2015 expenditures)||13 (2015)||Not available|
|Maine*||Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability||76||$789.47||$60,000 (2016 expenditures estimate)||1 (two part-time)||2|
|Maryland||Judicial Inquiry Board||354||no budget available||Not available||4||Not available|
|Massachusetts||Commission on Judicial Conduct||409||$1,831.49||$749,080||6||0|
|Michigan||Commission on Judicial Tenure||611||$1,825.20||$1,115,200||6||1|
|Minnesota||Board on Judicial Standards||306||$1,898.69||$581,000||2.5||3|
|Mississippi*||Commission on Judicial Performance||574||$1,103.95||$633,665||5||Not available|
|Missouri*||Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline||758||$304.84||$231,071||2.5||Not available|
|Montana*||Judicial Standards Commission||221||$78.20||$17,238 (2016 expenditures)||1.5||0|
|Nebraska||Commission on Judicial Qualifications||144||$94.97||$13,675.63 (2015 expenditures)||0||Not available|
|Nevada*||Commission on Judicial Discipline||178||$4,707.08||$837,860||5||10|
|New Hampshire*||Committee on Judicial Conduct||94||$1,669.15||$156,900 (2016 expenditures)||1||10|
|New Jersey||Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct||767||no budget available||No annual budget||4||4|
|New Mexico*||Commission on Judicial Standards||286||$3,008.04||$860,300||8||Not available|
|New York*||State Commission on Judicial Conduct||3,183||$1,754.32||$5,584,000||45||21|
|North Carolina||Judicial Standards Commission||402||no budget available||Not available||4||3 (2015 only)|
|North Dakota*||Commission on Judicial Conduct||146||$3,861.26||$563,743.50||4||1|
|Ohio* **||Board of Professional Conduct||39,879||$23.75||947,081 (includes attorney conduct)||4.5||3|
|Oklahoma*||Council of Judicial Complaints||634||$659.31||$418,000||2||0|
|Oregon*||Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability||194||$566.51||$109,902.00||0.5||2|
|Pennsylvania*||Judicial Conduct Board||1,064||$1,838.35||$1,956,000||13||15|
|Rhode Island||Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline||79||$1,538.32||$121,527||1||1|
|South Carolina* **||Commission on Judicial Conduct||10,829||$44.35||$480,238 (includes attorney conduct)||2||0|
|South Dakota||Commission on Judicial Qualifications||60||$1,169.07||$70,144||0||0|
|Tennessee*||Board of Judicial Conduct||522||$559.39||$292,000||2 (one full-time, two part-time)||2|
|Texas*||State Commission on Judicial Conduct||3,168||$357.54||$1,132,686||14||Not available|
|Utah*||Judicial Conduct Commission||260||$968.46||$251,800||2 (one full-time, two part-time)||2|
|Vermont||Judicial Conduct Board||50||No budget available||No annual budget||0||1|
|Virginia||Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission||420||$1,434.12||$602,329||3||1 (Between 12/1/2014 - 11/30/2015)|
|Washington||State Commission on Judicial Conduct||429||$2,603.73||$1,117,000||7||8|
|West Virginia* ***||Judicial Investigation Commission||278||$1,500.37||$417,103.91 (expenditures)||3||8|
|Wisconsin*||Judicial Commission||526||$572.81||$301,300 (2015/2016)||2||0|
|Wyoming*||Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics||133||$2,594.42||$345,058 (2015/2016)||1||Not available|
|District of Columbia||Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure||71||$4,154.93||$295,000||2||Not available|
*State employs non-lawyer judges
**Agency is responsible for investigating both judicial and attorney conduct
***The West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission can publicly admonish judges without passing on complaints to their adjudicating body. Since January 1, 2015, they brought public admonishments against six judges.
Judge data from the 2015 report by the Court Statistics Project: http://www.courtstatistics.org/
Attorney data from the American Bar Association: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/market_research/national-lawyer-population-by-state-2016.authcheckdam.pdf
Injustice Watch staff verified state conduct board staff and budget information by searching annual reports, conduct board websites and by verifying information with conduct board staff and court administrators.
Due to the changing nature of judgeships, positions can become vacant and numbers may be slightly off, according to the Court Statistics Project.