Opening Statement

Rauner’s rumble rolls on

Opening Statement

Pat Milhizer


By Pat Milhizer

What’s he thinking?

It’s a question you might have asked after reading news reports about our new governor’s comments on judicial campaign funding and the Illinois Supreme Court.

To recap, Bruce Rauner told the Daily Herald newspaper in April: “I don’t trust the Supreme Court to be rational in their decisions.”

He’s basing his position on his belief that the justices are “activist judges who want to be legislators.” And, he added, the seven justices of the highest court of this state are part of a “corrupt system” because they receive campaign donations from trial lawyers.

“You tell me if you look at who gives them the money, and you decide whether there’s a conflict of interest going on in the courts,” Rauner told the Daily Herald. “You tell me. Do you think there’s not?”

The Illinois Judges Association, Illinois State Bar Association and Illinois Trial Lawyers Association all slammed the governor’s statements.

“His statements are disappointing, of course, but also disturbing because they diminish the authority of the courts, and that endangers the rule of law,” IJA President Mike Hyman, an Illinois Appellate Court justice, told the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.

“The governor has shown contempt for every judge of this state by his attack on the Supreme Court and shows he misunderstands the role of the entire court system.”

Rauner is lobbing a serious allegation. And it’s seriously irresponsible.

To reiterate my stance I wrote in this space two months ago, I agree a better election system would feature merit selection or merit retention. We’ll never take the politics out of selecting judges, but we can remove the money. We can also eliminate the potential perception and allegations that any judge is beholden to any law firm or special interest.

Many in the legal community would agree with that. Many would disagree. There’s room for a civil debate here.

And civil discussion is needed because this is a profession in which both attorneys and judges need licenses to do their jobs, and regulatory boards can cease their ability to work. Given that just about any form of corruption would lead to a license suspension or disbarment, the governor’s language is insulting.

The IJA welcomes a dialogue with the governor. Hopefully, he will accept that offer and take it a step further. I’d encourage the governor to attend a swearing-in ceremony of new lawyers who are getting their licenses for the first time.

In every bar-admission ceremony I’ve attended, I’ve never heard a speaker talk about making money — even though that’s precisely what the law license gives the new attorney the power to do.

Rather, the speakers focus on ethics, civility and professionalism in interactions with lawyers, clients and judges.

And for the majority of the legal community in this state, those qualities are practiced every day. The over-the-top language like Rauner’s is typically avoided for many reasons — but primarily because it’s unnecessary and ineffective.

Also consider what Rauner told the Chicago Tribune about part of his economic plan: “Believe me, I am going to rip — try to rip the economic guts out of Indiana. I am one of the baddest, you know, enemies anybody can have.”

Versions of that quote don’t include the “you know” in the second sentence. The Tribune news story had it, but a summary of his talking points in that same day’s editorial pages did not.

I’m glad the news story included it because it’s telling.

I’ve met a couple of bad dudes in my life. Few would say they are bad dudes. And for the ones who do, they never have hesitation in their voice when saying it.

After all, Dirty Harry didn’t say: “Go ahead, you know, make my day.”