Behind the Curtain: a Perspective on the Judicial Evaluation Committee

Gerry Saltarelli, Chair of the CBA’s Judicial Evaluation Committee, interviewed by Kenny Matuszewski

Q: Can you explain the CBA’s Judicial Evaluation Committee and its mission for anyone who is not familiar with it?

A: The mission of the JEC is to inform the public as to the qualifications of individuals seeking election or appointment to judicial office.

Q: What are some of the Committee’s current projects? 

A: The Committee just finished evaluating 138 candidates for reappointment as associate judges.  Our next task will be to evaluate candidates running in the March 2020 primary election for circuit judge positions.

Q: Why did you join the Judicial Evaluation Committee and why did you become its chair?

A: I joined the JEC because judges in Cook County are entrusted with deciding disputes that dramatically affect the lives and fortunes of our clients.  It is vital that the judges who make those decisions are intelligent, experienced, fair, and dedicated.

I suppose I became Chair this year because of long service on the Executive Committee of the JEC.  Or perhaps it was punishment for always thinking there must be a better way of doing things.

Q: What would you like to accomplish as the Committee Chair? 

A: My main objective is to ensure we follow our process consistently from candidate to candidate while ensuring basic fairness to all those who seek judicial positions.  In addition, I wish to begin the first step toward creating a written record of the informal policies and procedures that have developed over the years.

Q: What has been your most memorable experience with the Committee? 

A: Most memorable are the hearings for candidates who have never been reviewed before.  It is fascinating to see the background and demeanor of lawyers who wish to be judges and then to attempt to make a decision whether they are qualified for the bench.  Our in-person hearings reveal so much more than the paper record discloses.

Q: How do you determine whether a candidate is qualified to serve on the judiciary?

A: First and foremost, we seek to evaluate the candidate’s history and performance against our written criteria, which focus on integrity, legal knowledge and ability, temperament, diligence, punctuality, professional experience, and physical and mental ability to perform the essential functions of the job.  To do this, we require candidates to submit responses to a detailed questionnaire which aims to capture relevant information from the candidate’s professional practice, education, work history, continuing education, and community involvement.  Next, we interview references whom the candidate is required to disclose in the questionnaire.  This includes, for practicing lawyers, the names of attorneys who have been adverse parties to the candidate in litigation or other legal matters, and for sitting judges, the names of counsel who have appeared recently before the judge.  Depending on the candidate, we may interview 15 to 30 references.  Finally, for certain candidates, we have in-person hearings where candidates can discuss their qualifications and Committee members may ask questions.  In such instances, the candidate must receive the positive vote of 60% of the hearing members in attendance in order to be found qualified.

Q: Do you have any advice for CBA members that are interested in joining the judiciary? 

A: Yes:  be the best lawyer you can be; cultivate a reputation for honesty and civility while zealously representing your client’s interests; always seek to broaden and diversify your practice; demonstrate achievement in your chosen area or areas; acquire sound litigation skills and be involved in bar activities and your community.

Q: Should new attorneys get involved with the Judicial Evaluation Committee? How can they participate?

A: Lawyers with two years of experience may join the Investigation Division of the JEC.  Investigators do the hard but essential work of interviewing references identified by candidates and preparing written reports on what they have learned.

Q: Do you have any last pieces of advice for young lawyers?

A: Volunteer work for the CBA obviously takes time away from your practice.  But don’t look at it from that narrow frame of reference.  (Take it from one who waited too long to become involved.)  Working for the JEC or becoming involved in other CBA activities broadens your professional network, fosters knowledge of current developments in the legal community, and enhances your reputation in that community.  Along the way, you will often render a public service, such as ensuring the quality of the bench in Cook County.

About Gerry:

image001 - SaltarelliGerry Saltarelli began practicing in 1973 with Winston & Strawn as an associate and then partner.  In 1981, he and three others founded Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd LLP.  Mr. Saltarelli retired from Butler Rubin at the end of 2017.  As an advocate for 44 years, Mr. Saltarelli had jury and bench trials in breach of contract and fraud actions, business torts, trade secret and restrictive covenants, insurance coverage disputes, antitrust, products liability, professional liability, dealer/franchise litigation, and real estate disputes.  His appellate experience includes appeals in both state and federal courts.  On January 1, 2018, Mr. Saltarelli commenced practicing as Saltarelli ADR LLC, focused on serving as an arbitrator and mediator in domestic and international disputes. 

 

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