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.

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.

Pennsylvania

Complaints since 2015: 15

2015-16 Fiscal Year Budget: $1,956,000

Budget spending per judge: $1,838.35

Florida

Complaints since 2015: 8

2016 Budget: $1,012,411

Budget spending per judge: $1,023.67

Alabama

Complaints since 2015: 5

2016 Fiscal Year Budget: $535,380

Budget spending per judge: $821.23

Louisiana

Complaints since 2015: Not available

2016 Fiscal Year Budget: $2,815,884

Budget spending per judge: $2,790.77

Missouri

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.
StateJudicial Conduct CommissionTotal authorized judges (** and attorneys) 2015Spending per judge (** and attorney)2016 budgetStaffPublic complaints brought since Jan. 1, 2015
Alabama*Judicial Inquiry Commission652$821.13$535,380.004 (three full-time, two part-time) 5
AlaskaCommission on Judicial Conduct73$5,653.42$412,700.0021
Arizona*Commission on Judicial Conduct443$1,139.95$505,000.004.59
ArkansasJudicial Discipline and Disability Commission250$2,730.80$682,701.0061
CaliforniaCommission on Judicial Performance1,798$2,624.58$4,719,000.0020.83
Colorado*Commission on Judicial Discipline554no budget availableDo not disclose1.50
ConnecticutJudicial Review Council232$630.45$146,265.001.5Not available
Delaware*Preliminary Investigatory Committee123no budget availableNo annual budget0Not available
FloridaJudicial Qualifications Commission989$1,023.67$1,012,411.0048
Georgia*Judicial Qualifications Commission1,538$344.88$530,423.003Not available
HawaiiCommission on Judicial Conduct79$1,137.15$89,83510
IdahoJudicial Council143$979.02$140,0001 (two part-time) 1
IllinoisJudicial Inquiry Board950$699.37$664,400.0051
Indiana*Commission on Judicial Qualifications412$631.07$260,000 (expenditures) 2.5Not available
Iowa*Commission on Judicial Qualifications353no budget availableNo annual budget1 (two part-time)0
Kansas*Commission on Judicial Qualifications526$49.65$26,1171Not available
KentuckyJudicial Retirement and Removal Commission282$1,356.38$382500 (2014/2015)24
Louisiana*Judiciary Commission1,009$2,790.77$2,815,884 (2015 expenditures)13 (2015)Not available
Maine*Committee on Judicial Responsibility and Disability76$789.47$60,000 (2016 expenditures estimate)1 (two part-time) 2
MarylandJudicial Inquiry Board354no budget availableNot available4Not available
Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct409$1,831.49$749,08060
MichiganCommission on Judicial Tenure611$1,825.20$1,115,20061
MinnesotaBoard on Judicial Standards306$1,898.69$581,0002.53
Mississippi*Commission on Judicial Performance574$1,103.95$633,6655Not available
Missouri*Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline758$304.84$231,0712.5Not available
Montana*Judicial Standards Commission221$78.20$17,238 (2016 expenditures)1.50
NebraskaCommission on Judicial Qualifications144$94.97$13,675.63 (2015 expenditures)0Not available
Nevada*Commission on Judicial Discipline178$4,707.08$837,860510
New Hampshire*Committee on Judicial Conduct94$1,669.15$156,900 (2016 expenditures)110
New JerseyAdvisory Committee on Judicial Conduct767no budget availableNo annual budget44
New Mexico*Commission on Judicial Standards286$3,008.04$860,3008Not available
New York*State Commission on Judicial Conduct3,183$1,754.32$5,584,0004521
North CarolinaJudicial Standards Commission402no budget available Not available43 (2015 only)
North Dakota*Commission on Judicial Conduct146$3,861.26$563,743.5041
Ohio* **Board of Professional Conduct39,879$23.75947,081 (includes attorney conduct) 4.53
Oklahoma*Council of Judicial Complaints634$659.31$418,00020
Oregon*Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability194$566.51$109,902.000.52
Pennsylvania*Judicial Conduct Board1,064$1,838.35$1,956,0001315
Rhode IslandCommission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline79$1,538.32$121,52711
South Carolina* **Commission on Judicial Conduct10,829$44.35$480,238 (includes attorney conduct)20
South DakotaCommission on Judicial Qualifications60$1,169.07$70,14400
Tennessee*Board of Judicial Conduct 522$559.39$292,0002 (one full-time, two part-time)2
Texas*State Commission on Judicial Conduct3,168$357.54$1,132,68614Not available
Utah*Judicial Conduct Commission260$968.46$251,8002 (one full-time, two part-time)2
VermontJudicial Conduct Board50No budget availableNo annual budget01
VirginiaJudicial Inquiry and Review Commission420$1,434.12$602,32931 (Between 12/1/2014 - 11/30/2015)
WashingtonState Commission on Judicial Conduct429$2,603.73$1,117,00078
West Virginia* ***Judicial Investigation Commission278$1,500.37$417,103.91 (expenditures)38
Wisconsin*Judicial Commission526$572.81$301,300 (2015/2016) 20
Wyoming*Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics133$2,594.42$345,058 (2015/2016)1Not available
District of ColumbiaCommission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure71$4,154.93$295,0002Not 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.