CHICAGO – Among the public officials on the November ballot in Illinois, judges seem to have little reason to fear that voters will give them the boot.
Retention rates for circuit judges are typically at or near 100 percent, even when legal groups give some poor reviews, which some observers say is cause for concern.
“In most elections, there are none that lose retention [anywhere in Illinois]. It’s very rare,” David Anderson, a spokesman for the Illinois State Bar Association, told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Judges can be unseated only if they receive less than 60 percent of the overall “yes” votes for retention.
A case in point: Cynthia Brim is one of 57 Cook County circuit court judges up for retention Nov. 6.
Brim, 54, is expected to keep her $182,000-a-year job even though a panel suspended her this year after she was charged with misdemeanor battery for allegedly shoving a sheriff’s deputy. The panel also cited other allegedly erratic behavior by Brim, who has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge.
The last time voters in Cook County cast enough ‘no’ votes to unseat a local circuit judge was 22 years ago, when John P. Tully lost his bid for retention as a circuit court judge in Cook County in 1990.
Brim is not without supporters, the Chicago Sun-Times reported over the weekend.
The head of the Democratic Party in Cook County, Joe Berrios, told the newspaper the party is recommending voters retain all Democratic judges on the ballot, including Brim.
“In the history of the Democratic Party, I can’t recall us not supporting a Democratic judge for retention,” he said. He added about Brim, “Everyone is innocent until proven guilty – at least that’s the American way I was taught.”
But legal associations have criticized Brim. The Chicago Bar Association and Chicago Council of Lawyers are among the groups recommending Brim not be retained. Both also gave her a thumbs down in 2006.
“Even though the judge hears generally non-complex matters, her rulings are often described as unpredictable and delayed,” the Chicago Council of Lawyers said in its recently released evaluation, based partly on member reviews. The same review also accused her of being “rude and unaccommodating.”
Brim, whose next hearing on her battery case is a day after the election, declined comment to the Sun-Times. A telephone listing for a Cynthia Brim in Chicago wasn’t publicly available.
Brim is a Loyola University law school graduate and worked for the city of Chicago’s law department from 1984 to 1991. She later worked for then-Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris.
Many voters don’t bother scanning to the end of their ballots, where the retention questions are. In Cook County, just 65 percent of city and suburban voters vote on the re-election or retention of judges, Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office said.
In presidential election years, voters may be even less focused on judges, David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform told the Sun-Times.
“With the retention vote, you’re just seeing a name and ‘yes’ or ‘no’ [on ballots],” he said. “And most people vote yes.”