Two years ago, State MP Carol Ammons pushed for a law that would pave the way for the election of more Democratic judges in downstate counties like Champaign – and was about to pass it.
Now the bill has been revised by Ammons to create judicial subcategories in counties with more than 150,000 residents. And Champaign County’s chief judge Randy Rosenbaum isn’t happy about it.
In an email to Ammons, Rosenbaum noted that she had failed to mention the proposal in a recent interview and said he was “disappointed” and “dismayed” to learn about it on the news media.
“I would have thought that such a topic would have been discussed with me,” he wrote. “I’m the presiding judge of Champaign County and the chief of the sixth judicial district. I found out about the article while attending a chief meeting in Chicago. I mentioned it to the heads of the counties that comprise McLean and Peoria Counties. They hadn’t heard of it either and were very annoyed at the thought of partial circles. “
The sub-circuit plan is apparently part of the vast majority of the Democrats’ enormous ambitions, which include the House and Senate, as well as the 17 state congressional districts and five state Supreme Court districts.
The State Journal Register in Springfield pulled the curtain back on the plan that a Democrat would not approve or discuss.
In addition to Champaign, McLean, Sangamon and Peoria would also be affected.
State Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, said he expected the plan to pass next week and said he was motivated by an “urge for more varied representation on the bench.”
“I just want to make sure we get input from the judges,” he said.
Ammons, D-Urbana, declined to respond to email inquiries.
Champaign County is one of six counties in the Sixth Judicial District. The others are Piatt, Douglas, DeWitt, Macon, and Moultrie. The plan calls for Champaign County to be divided into areas from which judges will be elected.
Illinois has 24 judicial districts, with a handful made up of individual counties (Cook, DuPage, and Will) due to its large population.
Each of these 24 districts is assigned to one of five appellate / supreme court districts.
With the redistribution of districts of the state / Supreme Court appeals courts, state justices already have their hands full ironing out the administrative problems caused by moving dozens of districts from one district to another.
But it has proven so onerous that the Supreme Court ordered the status quo to remain in place prior to redistribution while various committees review new administrative arrangements.
There is some irony in the subcircle proposal because Champaign County, once a Republican county, is now solidly Democratic. That means Democratic Legislators don’t have to change the rules for electing judges in a Champaign County race, as Democrat Ramona Sullivan demonstrated when she was elected county judge last year.
“Champaign County is already a kind of sub-route in the Sixth Circle,” said Senator Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.
However, Rosenbaum suggested that creating subcircles in Champaign County would require “breaking up the county into smaller subcircles”, arguing that “creating a smaller voting pool is not the answer”.
Aside from the partisan advantage the Democrats might gain, Rosenbaum said, “the chiefs wonder what the purpose of it is”.
Rosenbaum has raised a multitude of implementation-related questions that cannot be answered while details of the plan are not disclosed.
But State Representative Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said serious discussion about partial circles was pointless because the move was purely political, “getting more Democratic judges who will drive this progressive change in Illinois.”
“Chief judge Rosenbaum is right when he says how unnecessary this is,” he said.
The General Assembly is to hold a veto session this week and next from Tuesday to Thursday.