Being Informed at the Polls: The Importance of Judicial Evaluations

Post Authored by: Risa Lanier

Every day, Judges make important decisions with far reaching effects, yet the average citizen voter is uninformed as to the qualifications and reputations of those jurists or of candidates seeking judicial election.  The Chicago Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation Committee takes the guesswork out of judicial voting.  Using a variety of available resources, members of our over 100 person committee perform in-depth evaluations of judicial candidates to assess their qualifications for judicial office in eight critical areas: integrity, legal knowledge, legal ability, judicial temperament, diligence, punctuality, professional experiences, and current physical and mental ability to perform the essential functions of the job.  Candidates are rated as HIGHLY QUALIFIED, QUALIFIED, or NOT RECOMMENDED for judicial office. Our findings are made available to the general public via our “Judge Smart” Guide: a Voter’s Guide to Judicial Candidates which can be found on the Chicago Bar Association Website, as well as our Pocket Guide, a two page printable summary that is perfect for the voting booth.

The Chicago Bar Association has a long-standing commitment to assisting voters with making informed judicial candidate selections at the polls, dating back to the turn of the century.  Beginning first with running a “Bar Ticket” in 1887, to our present comprehensive procedure adopted in 1976 which revamped the process to minimize political and bar politics, instituted random selection of evaluators and investigators, and enacted procedures to assure the confidentiality of the process and sources.  Our procedures are consistently reviewed and updated to maintain and ensure the integrity of our judicial evaluation process.

The importance of arming our citizens with information to allow them to make informed decisions at the polls cannot be understated.  Electing only those qualified to serve as jurists is just as crucial as making Presidential selections or voting for our state legislative representatives.  Judges are an integral part of our society and are tasked with making crucial decisions that affect many parts of our lives.  For example, a decision made by a judge assigned to traffic court to restrict or suspend driving privileges may have adverse effects on the ability to provide for one’s family due to a lack of transportation.  Similarly, judges assigned to the Domestic Relations Division make intimate decisions that affect the composition of our families, such as custody and visitation of children.  Finally, judges make decisions that affect the liberty and freedoms of those charged with more serious criminal offenses.  Therefore, it is imperative that those who are elected to the bench not only meet the minimum qualifications for the job, but are those who will uphold, follow and apply the law indiscriminately, with compassion and empathy, and without political motivation or bias. Our judicial evaluation process identifies those candidates who possess these fundamental attributes.

Whether you plan to vote early or visit the polls on November 3, be sure to take with you the only reference guide backed by over 40 years of judicial evaluation services benefitting our community to help you “Judge Smart”  this election year.  Click here to view our judicial candidate guides and be sure to share them with your family and friends.

About the Author:                                                                                                               

Risa Lanier is a 20-year veteran prosecutor at the country’s second largest prosecutor’s office, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.  Risa currently sits as the Chief of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, the first African American to be promoted to this high office, which oversees all criminal prosecutions throughout all of Cook County, with approximately 450 lawyers assigned to the bureau.  As Chief, Risa works directly with State’s Attorney Foxx and her executive staff to create policies and procedures in the State’s Attorney’s Office that promote public safety while recognizing and combatting historical inequalities inherent in the criminal justice system through a progressive prosecution model.  Risa serves the community in a variety of ways.  She is a member of the National Black Prosecutors Association where she mentors younger African American prosecutors.  She is also a member of the Chicago Bar Association where she serves as the General Chair for the Judicial Evaluation Committee of the Chicago Bar Association.  This committee serves the community at large by investigating and interviewing prospective judges and then reporting their ratings of the candidates prior to elections and appointments.  Risa Lanier is also an alumni of the Civic Leadership Academy (Class of 2018) at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

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