Illinois: Judge suspended from office for insanity prompting constitutional changes; amendment would create form of merit selection for Cook County & require judges be certified by state disciplinary commission

There will be a hearing later today on an amendment to the Illinois Constitution to require all Cook County judges (Supreme, Appellate, Circuit and Associate Circuit) seeking appointment or re-election first be cleared by the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois.

Under SJR 7 which is set to be heard by the Senate Executive Committee’s Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments these new rules would apply only “In a county with a population of 3,000,000 or more” which means Cook County (Chicago); the next smallest county (DuPage) doesn’t even break 1 million.

The certification would require the Commission determine the judge or judicial candidate’s “legal experience, skill and knowledge, as well as his or her academic background, personal character, commitment to community service, and professional conduct and temperament.” This language is similar to that used by merit selection commissions in other states in determining which candidates to send onto governors for nomination/appointment. Applicants would have to pay a fee to the Commission to cover the Commission’s expenses. In addition to the certification provision, SJR 7 would also require all judges in Cook County have practiced law at least 10 years prior to appointment.

The impetus seems to be an effort by Cook County Circuit Judge Cynthia Brim who was suspended from office in 2012 due psychotic episodes that resulted in her shoving a deputy sheriff. Brim last week (March 28) testified in an effort to be reinstated.

That March 28 date is critical; SJR 7 had been filed in February 5, 2013 and had lain dormant in the Senate Assignments Committee, effectively killed. The bill was brought back to life and given a hearing date on March 28, 2014, precisely as Judge Brim was testifying in her effort to be reinstated.