Merit Selection, Alternate Sentencing Go on Trial
This a question-and-answer session with candidates for the 18th Judicial Court. The following candidates, all currently associate judges, are running for one of two contested judge seats.
Question: What are your views on merit selection of judges and alternative sentencing?
C. Stanley Austin: While the present elective process certainly has its flaws, such as fund-raising and the difficulty in educating the electorate about judicial candidates, I am not convinced that, at least in my jurisdiction, a "merit selection" process would improve the overall quality of the judiciary. My preference is to continue to strive for attaining the most qualified judiciary based upon legal ability and experience, as well as personal and professional integrity. The primary claimed advantage of "merit selection" is to eliminate politics from the process, but I am not convinced that is an attainable goal. Additional investigation, research and review should continue in this important area, however.
* To the extent that the judiciary as a whole or individual judges can be proactive in terms of working with the community to assist in decreasing the number of people entering the system, we should do so. This is particularly true in the area of juvenile criminal activity including gangs, violence and drugs. Judges can and should be in the forefront of promoting and building education, counseling and community activities which can assist young people in avoiding criminal activity. We must be visible in our communities supporting programs such as Big Brother/Big Sister, Community Outreach (Wheaton) and others, and we must participate in our schools, churches and community organizations to provide alternatives to gang, drug and criminal activity.
With regard to adults, we can continue to look at sentencing alternatives to incarceration for non-violent crimes. These alternatives can and should include boot camps, work release and community service options.
George J. Bakalis: I believe that a merit selection of judges should be supported. My experience during this campaign has been that most voters are unaware of who the judicial candidates are and what their qualifications are. At the present time anyone who has a law license is technically qualified to run for Circuit Court Judge. There are no experience qualifications whatsoever. It is possible for a person with a law license with no practical experience or judge when having a sufficient amount of money or name recognition to be elected to a position with great responsibility. I believe some form of merit selection could be done through a merit committee consisting of both elected officials, civic leaders, representatives of the bench and bar, and the general public. Certain criteria or standards could then be set forth and hopefully only those meeting that criteria would be selected. In addition, I believe it would be possible to maintain the current retention system for judges. Once a person had been initially selected on a merit basis he or she would then stand for retention every six years as is done presently. This would make the person accountable to the general public, and as experience has shown, if there is enough concern about a particular judge he or she would be subject to not being retained. …