A judge in Illinois won a retention election despite serving a suspension since March with pending misdemeanor assault charges for pushing a sheriff's deputy. Similar to sitting judges in Pennsylvania, judges in Illinois that are seeking re-election are not actually opposed by another judicial candidate. Instead, voters basically choose to either keep or remove the judge, and, if the judge retains the required number of "keep" votes, then the judge retains the judicial job.
Not only was this sitting judge facing misdemeanor assault charges, she was suspended from her job, was required to have a police escort if she enters the courthouse, and was not recommended for retention by the Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Council of Lawyers. Clearly, the legal organizations in the area did not support the judge being retained. Despite all the negatives, the sitting judge received over 63% of the retention votes and thereby kept $180,000.00 per year position.
Judges Should Be Appointed and Not Elected
This case evidences why Pennsylvania judges should be appointed and not elected. A judge should not obtain their positions based upon a popularity contest but should be instead reviewed and recommended by attorneys and other judges. Judges would then obtain their jobs based upon their credentials, knowledge, and prior experience in the law. A merit-based system of selecting judges would increase the quality of judges in Pennsylvania.
In Pennsylvania, magisterial district judges do not even have to be licensed attorneys. Instead, practically anyone can seek election as a magisterial district judge, and, if elected, they must attend and complete a crash course program. In order for a lawyer to practice law before a judge, they must obtain an undergraduate degree, a law degree, pass a bar exam, and then become professionally licensed. In order to become a judge, a person must simply win a popularity contest and then pass a crash course on the law. While I believe that all judges should be required to have a law license, I must also admit that one of the finest judges that I know is a non-lawyer, and a much better judge than other judges that are lawyers. A judge has a considerable amount of power of peoples' lives and freedoms, and selecting which people to put into those positions of power should not be a popularity contest.