Speaking of judicial retention elections, the Circuit Court of Cook County is a bit of an embarrassment for supporters of judicial retention elections. In order to remain on the bench, judges in Illinois must survive a retention election by getting 60% of the votes cast. But since no one is running against them, this is pretty easy to do. Indeed, no Cook County judge has been thrown out in a retention election since 1990 (though, admittedly, six judges were not retained that year). This despite the efforts of bar organizations and newspaper editorial boards to educate voters and call out unqualified judges for non-retention.
For example, we've blogged here about the controversy surrounding Judge Cynthia Brim, who was barred from the Courthouse and indefinitely suspended after allegedly assaulting a sheriff's deputy—an episode during which a court-appointed psychiatrist later found her to be "legally insane." (Though one questions whether in so opining the psychiatrist was practicing law without a license). Even before this outburst (which has led to criminal charges) Judge Brim was on the various bar associations' chopping block. She was deemed "not qualified" in both 2000 and 2006, yet was retained both times.
Judge Brim was up for retention again this year. For the third time, she was retained. And so were all the other Cook County judges.
By the way, in searching for a news article about how Judge Brim had been found "legally insane," I came across this—which is a news article about a different Cook County judge (Judge Susan McDunn) who has apparently gone insane. She has also been quietly suspended from the bench. Among other things, Judge McDunn has "suspicions that powerful people including officials from the Archdiocese of Chicago have 'ruined [her] life.'" One can only wonder whether Catholic Knight Witch Hunters are involved.
(Judge McDunn was not up for retention this year, but she was not recommended for retention when she last went before voters in 2010.)
Of course, to the extent that the erratic (or worse) behavior of Judge McDunn and Judge Brim is because of genuine mental illness, it is sad, and we can only hope they recover their faculties. But it is difficult to come up with the right adjective to describe the system that allows them to continue to hold the position of Cook County judge despite being widely labeled "unqualified" long before any mental illnesses cropped up. All I can come up with is an noun: democracy.
Alas, democracy doesn't always give you that warm and fuzzy feeling.