Name: Judge Robert Wilbrandt, Jr.
Office sought: Circuit Judge – 22nd Judicial Circuit – Vacancy of the Honorable Maureen Mcintyre
Occupation: Circuit Judge – 22nd Judicial Circuit
Education: Bachelor’s Degree with High Honors from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (elected Phi Beta Kappa), Master’s Degree in History from Northeastern Illinois University, and law degree from Northwestern University Law School (graduated cum laude).
Elected offices held: N/A
1) What skills, qualities and experience do you have that separate you from your opponents?
The position of judge is not an easy one. I believe it requires a great deal of training and experience to carry out duties in an informed, impartial, and efficient manner. My background shows that I have the necessary qualifications.
I previously worked as Public Defender for McHenry County, then as a local prosecutor for Fox River Grove, viewing criminal cases from both sides. I spent years as legal advisor for Turning Point, working against domestic violence and receiving both the Turning Point Dreamweaver and Peace and Justice Awards. I taught law for 25 years at McHenry County College. I have also provided legal training for our McHenry County Bar, the Illinois State Bar, and for the Illinois Judges Association, among other groups.
I was appointed an Associate Judge by our local judges, and then a Circuit Judge by the Illinois Supreme Court. I have been an active judge for well over 11 years, and I have presided over scores of jury trials. As an attorney or a judge, I have tried or presided over cases ranging from traffic tickets to divorces to murder and serious felonies. I have the experience necessary to carry out the duties of Circuit Judge.
2) Do you have a strong sense of moral behavior in your personal life, and how would that carry over into your decisions on the bench?
I was baptized and confirmed into Immanuel Lutheran Church of Crystal Lake. I have since attended several different Lutheran churches, and I generally share their moral principles and beliefs. However, my first duty as judge is to follow the Constitution and laws as they are written, recognizing that our founders intended that church and state be kept separate. I respect differing beliefs. I also realize that I, like everyone else, am human and that I have made mistakes. I believe that I must keep that realization in mind in doing my job as a judge. I believe that doing what is just can include not only punishment and setting of restrictions, but also helping others overcome their problems and going on to lead productive and fulfilling lives. The “balance” of justice includes the recognition of both these moral issues, and, based on my experience, striking this balance is one of the hardest parts of a judge’s job.
3) Does the Bail Reform Act do enough to level the playing field for poor people in the criminal justice system? Why or why not?
One of my judicial assignments is to hear “initial appearance” cases where a person is first brought to court after being charged. All the stakeholders in our system, including State’s Attorneys, Public Defenders and defense lawyers, Pretrial Service Officers, Corrections Officers, Circuit Clerks and Judges, have been working hard to implement the new provisions of the Bail Reform Act. The Act requires prompt hearings to set bail and provides that attorneys may be appointed for these hearings. Additionally, there is a $30/day “credit” on certain offenses to be applied when a defendant cannot post bail.
In passing this legislation, the legislature recognized that persons charged are presumed innocent, and that no one should be held in jail merely because of financial condition. As a judge, I recognize this presumption, but I also recognize the right of the State’s Attorney to show that public safety and other factors require a higher bail in certain cases.
The Bail Reform Act itself recognizes that the new legislation will be clarified by later Supreme Court rules and perhaps by further legislation. It is my function as a Circuit Judge to carry out these policy guidelines while trying to protect the rights of all involved.
4) Is there a Justice on the Supreme Court that you admire? Who and why?
There have been many past Justices of the US Supreme Court who have achieved “iconic” status, and whose decisions I have taught to my law classes over the years. I also admire several of the current justices, and among these I include the newest, Justice Neil Gorsuch.
First, while he has the usual impressive educational background, including membership in Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University, he also acted as a trial lawyer. He spent several years at the trial level, laboring in his local courts with jury trials, with civil litigation, and with serious terrorist cases. This trial level experience will be useful when he deals with the complex issues that will come before him.
Additionally, he is a proponent of “textualism”. He bases his interpretation of the law and the Constitution on the ordinary and reasonable meanings of the text itself – not on some intention that was not specified in the law. I hope and believe that Justice Gorsuch will rule only on the facts and text of the law, and keep political considerations, factions and agenda out of his decisions.
5) How will your party affiliation influence your actions as a Judge?
My party affiliation is Republican. But I believe that judges must remain independent and impartial from any partisan positions, and not align themselves with any political topic, person, or faction. To put it another way, a referee or umpire should not align himself with one team or another before a game begins!
I believe we must keep “old style” politics out of our courtrooms. I believe that cases should be decided upon the law and the facts, not upon who you may know or what political considerations are presented. I have previously been required to decide issues where political or factional motivations were hinted at by one side or another, and I have zealously attempted to keep such considerations out of my decisions.
I, too, believe, like Justice Gorsuch, that the interpretation of the law and the Constitution must be based on the ordinary and reasonable meanings of the text itself, and not by stretching its meaning based upon the political expediencies of the moment.
As a Republican, I believe in the primacy of our federal and state constitutions, and as a judge, I have taken an oath to uphold them.
6) Do you think cameras should be allowed in McHenry County Courtrooms? Why or why not?
On February 22, 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court issued an amending order regarding Extended Media Coverage, removing all references to “provisional” or “experimental”. It is now simply the policy that applies to all courtrooms in Illinois.
I believe that the time has come to allow cameras in McHenry County courts. I have attended judicial classes on how this policy can be implemented, and I have volunteered to serve on a committee to draft and submit such a policy for McHenry County.
Our policy must comply with Supreme Court regulations. No family law cases are allowed, no jurors faces should be shown. While the public has a constitutional right to be informed and see how courts operate; victims, witnesses, litigants and all the stakeholders in the court system also have rights that must be balanced and protected. I realize that reasonable judges may differ on how to balance these rights, but I believe that the dangers can be mitigated, and that the benefits of public transparency and confidence in our court system would outweigh the dangers.
Other jurisdictions have been successful in balancing these rights, and I believe that a well-crafted Extended Media Policy can accomplish this goal for McHenry County.