'Judge's Judge' Retiring after 25 Years

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Byline: Tony Gordon Legal Affairs Writer tgordon@dailyherald.com

It was well into the lunch hour on a recent workday, but Circuit Judge Raymond McKoski was still at his desk when the phone rang.

A downstate colleague was calling with a question about judicial ethics a subject McKoski made his signature issue across his 25 years on the Lake County bench.

"Yes, judge, I do have some research on that issue," McKoski told the caller. "Let me get it all together, and I will call you back in about an hour and we'll talk."

McKoski, who is retiring this week to devote himself to teaching and being a grandfather, said he found his way into the law, onto the bench and into the field of judicial ethics all by happenstance.

"I was studying to be a meteorologist in college when I discovered I really didn't have much capacity for science," the Lindenhurst resident said. "An adviser suggested I try law school because I was sure to get a job when I got out of school."

After graduation, McKoski served as a prosecutor in the Illinois attorney general's

office and Lake County state's attorney's office until someone suggested he apply for a job as an associate judge, which he won in 1985. The following year, he was asked to deliver a presentation at a seminar for new judges, and McKoski said he naturally assumed his assigned topic would be criminal law because of his background.

"But much to my surprise, I was told I would be speaking on judicial ethics," he said. "It was something of a quandary because I really had not done that much research on judicial ethics."

As he poured himself into the topic, McKoski said, he found few people who had done much research on it, and only one book on the subject existed.

A quest was born. McKoski labored mightily to gather information and opinions on the subject, growing into an expert who co-chairs the Illinois Judicial Ethics Committee and has been published in law journals throughout the country.

The key to the issue, he claims, is simple.

"The conduct of a judge, on and off the bench, must be beyond reproach at all times because it is the key to our system of laws continuing to function," McKoski said. "The justice system exists solely on the faith of the people, and if the people cannot believe in our judges, then the greatest justice system in the world will fail."

McKoski said he feels the state of judicial ethics in Lake County and Illinois is good, primarily for two reasons.

"First, I believe the vast majority of people being appointed and elected to the bench are first-rate, quality individuals," he said. "Secondly, the judicial education programs offered by the Supreme Court emphasize the ethical and moral aspects of being a judge as well as the legal aspects."

He warns, however, that vigilance is necessary to protect the integrity of the bench.

McKoski said he is concerned that growing case loads for judges may erode the time they have to make well-reasoned decisions on the questions each case presents.

He said he also believes special-interest spending on judicial campaigns could have a far reaching negative effect on the independence of judges. …