Viewpoint: Warming the bench–Who judges the judge?

Viewpoint: Warming the bench–Who judges the judge?

By Joe Baker

Warming the bench—

Who judges the judge?

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

Ascension to the bench in this county involves more than meets the eye.

The appointment of attorney Joseph McGraw is the latest example. McGraw was sworn in Jan. 2 as a circuit judge to fill the position vacated by the elevation of Judge Kapala to the appellate court.

Attorney Frank Perrecone published a satire on the process in the newsletter of the county bar association. His piece raised some pertinent questions about

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Warming the bench—

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how judges are chosen in these parts.

Perrecone put it this way: “Was notice of the selection process given? How many people were considered for this vacancy? What criteria were employed in the selection process? Or was it Democratic lawyers, independent lawyers and all Republican lawyers without a heavy-duty political sponsor could not apply?”

Perrecone said he went to the courthouse before the selection, looking for a notice of the vacancy and details of how the successor judge would be chosen. He found no such notice, nor did a number of other attorneys who were interested in the position.

The satirical article drew screams of protest from attorney Patrick Hayes, who pretended his dignity and professional ethics were offended by such a blatant assault on the august judicial system.

Hayes asserted there was no basis of truth for Perrecone’s allegations. He chided the newsletter’s editorial board for running the article.

Both Perrecone’s satire and Hayes’ rebuttal were published in the Winnebago County Bar journal, The Lawyer.

In his rebuttal, Hayes explained: “Our chief judge phoned Justice (Robert) Thomas and indicated Joe McGraw had announced he would run for election and was willing to serve as an interim appointee. Justice Thomas forwarded an application and reviewed Joe’s credentials. Based upon that review and his personal recollections of Joe from previous encounters, Justice Thomas announced Joe’s appointment.”

Hayes said that is “the simple truth” about McGraw’s appointment. He added: “Good lawyers check their facts, Frank.” So do good reporters, and we found one Hayes forgot to mention. He is McGraw’s campaign manager.

He also denies Sen. Dave Syverson attempted to influence Justice Thomas’ decision. That is interesting, in light of the fact that a relative of Syverson is employed by the same law firm that employs Hayes.

We asked Syverson if he had talked with Justice Thomas about McGraw. “I did not talk to the justice about Joe McGraw, nor was I invited to any of those so-called back-room meetings. Having said that, if I had been asked to do that, I would have. I strongly support Joe McGraw.

“I was instrumental in the last couple of years in creating a couple of these judicial positions. I worked closely with Judge Morrison in creating additional judicial openings.

“As always, they ask any associate judges if they want the appointment. If they do, they are giving up their associate position. If they run and lose, they’re out. None wanted to do that. I think Pat Hayes responded because not everyone took it as tongue-in-cheek. I was a little frustrated by it,” Syverson said.

We also asked whether he had asked Judge Michael Morrison to step down to make way for Judge Grubb to become chief judge.

“Heavens, no. It was not a back-room deal,” Syverson said. “I’ve been a strong supporter of Judge Morrison. I hated to see him retire. He was doing a great job as chief judge. He is an extremely talented, fair judge. No, absolutely, I would not have encouraged him to retire,” he said.

Perrecone concluded his article by saying: “The selection of a circuit judge is too important to be in the hands of a chosen few, who relay the name of their hand-picked choice for appointment. Commissions should be put in place to review background and qualifications of applicants, and then make recommendations for appointments to Justice Thomas.

“Will a commission take politics totally out of the mix? Probably not, but commission screening will open the process to all lawyers and associate judges who want to apply, instead of excluding well-qualified individuals based solely on lack of political influence.”

To that we add a hearty “Amen!”

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