Saturday, August 26, 2017

For those who came in late: Why I cover judicial stuff on my blog

I first ran for judge so long ago that Ed Vrdolyak and the late Ty Wansley were still holding down the afternoon drive slot on WLS-AM.

The reference is not a random one. In the run-up to the 1994 primary, Vrdolyak and Wansley encouraged down-ballot candidates (including judicial candidates, who are always at the very bottom of the ballot) to call in and make their pitch to the voters.

I called.

In an article written for the 1994 Law Day edition of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (optimistically---and inaccurately!---titled, "A neophyte learns what it takes to run for judge"), I recounted what happened next:
I waited two hours on hold only to have Wansley ask me how, if elected, I would make him feel safer.

A good politician might take this kind of a question and give a wholly unrelated, self-serving answer. I, on the other hand, had a self-destructive tendency to be literal....
I finally started stammering out something about how, as a new judge, I'd wind up in Traffic Court... and my answer kind of went downhill from there.

[Aside to the general public: Judges shouldn't make you feel safer, and they shouldn't promise to. Judges have to follow the law. In a given case, that might mean that a dangerous felon is removed from the streets. In another, as Cardozo famously said, "The criminal is to go free because the constable has blundered" (People v. Defore, 242 N.Y. 13, 21, 150 N.E. 585(1926)). In a great many cases, probably most of them, the judge following the law ultimately means that somebody has to pay money. Or not. You want to feel safer? Buy a home security system.]

Anyway, I was awful at these 'beauty contest' questions---I still am, unless I have the time to think up a decent answer---but that was only one of my many defects as a candidate.

There are a host of other, better reasons why I lost: I was unslated. I was unknown. I didn't have a lot of money. What money I had, I spent badly (although, to be honest, even though I failed to include my punch number, I still think the billboards looked pretty snazzy). I have a terrible ballot name, made all the worse by my decision to appear on the ballot as Francis J. "Jack" Leyhane III. Ye gods and little fishes: Has a ballot name ever looked more pretentious than that? (Probably not in the 10th Subcircuit, I'll warrant.)

I was the Bob Uecker of judicial candidates. And I probably owe apologies to Mr. Uecker for making that analogy.

About the only thing I did right was to qualify for the ballot. I didn't know beans about politics (and I'm still several beans short of a casserole, I realize) but I was a decent lawyer. I could look stuff up. That -- and the fact that Jim Roche was one of my partners, and one of his ex-partners was election law expert Burt Odelson. So, let's be honest, I got lucky there (Burt asked one of his partners, Mat Delort, to do my petitions; yes, that's the same guy now sitting on the Appellate Court).

And, for all these many faults, I was arguably a "good" candidate -- at least I was rated qualified or recommended by all the bar associations.

As a practicing lawyer, I want only good candidates to become judges.

Like every lawyer (like every litigant) I want all judges to rule in my favor all the time. That's not possible, of course. Even Perry Mason lost three cases (at least he lost them temporarily). But if I can't win every case I take, I want the outcomes of the cases I do take on to be as predictable as possible: If I have correctly looked up the law, I should be able to tell, right from the start, where I will wind up. And if I haven't correctly understood the law, I want to learn something from the experience. I want the court to explain to me, so I can explain to my disappointed client, why we failed to prevail.

Even this is not possible, of course, but I want to move ever further in the direction of predictability and certainty in case results -- and good, competent, honest, smart, hard-working judges are necessary to bring that vision to life.

So I have a selfish motive.

And I also have another motive: I don't want future judicial candidates to stumble around as blindly as I did in 1994 (and 1996 -- but that's a story for a different day). I want judicial candidates to be able to get their names and their credentials and their messages out to the public. I want the public to have a place to go to find out about judicial candidates. I want to put to rest the stale nostrum that even interested voters can't find out anything about judicial candidates.

I never imagined, 10 years now into this project, that I'd still be one of the only ones doing this. I thought surely others would come along by now who would leave my amateurish journalistic efforts in the dust.

But here I am. Still. And here you are. Welcome. And thank you.

If you're really new here, you might not realize most of the judicial stuff is on page one of this blog. Well, I consider it page one. Blogger calls the site that you're visiting now an entirely different blog from For What It's Worth. But now you know differently.