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Illinois State Bar Association judicial advisory poll results favor sitting judges

Poll rates local judicial candidates in several areas

WOODSTOCK – The primaries are a few weeks away, and voters could choose to put two new circuit judges on the bench in McHenry County court.

The Illinois State Bar Association released poll results Wednesday rating local judicial candidates in meeting the requirements of the office, integrity, impartiality, legal ability, temperament, court management, health and sensitivity. Each of the candidates scored highest in health.

Respondents of the poll included attorneys within the ISBA and the McHenry County Bar Association.

The lowest scores across the board were assigned to McHenry County Clerk Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills, who received 10 out of 100 possible points for meeting the requirements of office. Excluding health, her highest ratings were in sensitivity and temperament.

“The true results will be election day, to be perfectly honest,” McClellan said.

After law school, McClellan started her legal career in McHenry County, but she more recently worked as a private attorney and then a prosecutor in Cook County. Politics and a lack of familiarity are to blame for her poll ratings, she said.

“Statistically, it’s not a true poll of my qualifications, and actually, I’m the best qualified,” McClellan said. “All of my opponents have very limited skills, from either criminal only or very limited areas … and I draw from a breadth of experience.”

McHenry County Judge Joel Berg, R-Harvard, received some of the highest scores of the six candidates competing to fill the district’s two judicial vacancies.

Candidates were rated by the ISBA Judicial Evaluations Committee and a poll of lawyers conducted by the ISBA.

“They generally are pretty fair, and I think it’s no surprise the two judges with the most experience scored the highest in the poll,” Berg said.

Berg and his opponent, Tiffany Davis, R-Woodstock, are competing to fill the vacancy left by retired Judge Charles Weech. Berg and Davis, along with sitting Judge Robert Wilbrandt, R-Woodstock, were the only candidates to receive a recommendation based on their poll results.

Berg has been on the bench for the past six years, presiding over cases in traffic, civil and criminal courts, among others.

Davis was appointed May 31 by the Illinois Supreme Court to fill Weech’s seat. Before that, she served as a prosecutor in McHenry and Winnebago counties for more than
22 years.

ISBA poll results show that aside from health, Davis’ highest scores were in sensitivity and temperament.

“I am pleased to be recommended by the ISBA and the McHenry County Bar Association,” Davis said. “I am proud to have received my highest ratings for my integrity, sensitivity to diversity and bias, and my temperament.”

Wilbrandt also has fared well in the race to fill the seat of retired Judge Maureen McIntyre. Of the four judicial candidates on the ballot for McIntyre’s vacancy, Wilbrandt was the only one to receive a recommendation based on his poll results.

“To have [the bar associations’] overwhelming support, and to be the only countywide candidate for judge recommended for the position, makes me very grateful and proud,” Wilbrandt said. “I hope that I can continue to earn their trust by providing a high level of court services, by insuring access to our system and by increasing the efficiency and transparency of our local courts.”

In the arena of public opinion, Wilbrandt’s campaign has faced a nameless foe: a series of robo calls to McHenry County residents alleging that the judge is “under investigation” and accusing him of fabricating a military background. Wilbrandt’s campaign manager would not comment on the robo calls.

Based on poll results alone, Ray Flavin, R-Woodstock, could be Wilbrandt’s closest contender, as he received the second highest score in each of the categories except health.

The attorney has said the Bail Reform Act doesn’t do enough to level the playing field for the poor in the criminal justice system. He also has challenged the promise of his opponent, Demetri Tsilimigras, R-Cary, to not take a judge’s pension if elected.

“All the people who I’m running against have government pensions or have state jobs. If you think that’s a great idea, then please make one of them a judge,” Flavin said. “If you think that’s not a great idea, then I’ve given people an option.”

Tsilimigras received some of his highest poll scores in sensitivity and temperament. The assistant state’s attorney scored lower in legal ability and meeting the requirements of office, but like McClellan, he chalks up those numbers to a matter of familiarity.

“A significant number of votes on this nonscientific, non-all-inclusive poll comes from current and retired judges,” Tsilimigras said. “In addition, many judges that have previously applied for a judicial appointment while they were practicing attorneys had very low scores on those polls. After they had become appointed, all [of] the sudden they have high marks.”

The 2018 primary election is March 20.

How the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court race contenders scored for the “meets requirements of office” category. Scores are out of 100 points.

Joel Berg: 88.71

​Tiffany Davis: 74.47

Ray Flavin: 49.29

Mary McClellan: 10

Demetri Tsilimigras: 43.06

Robert Wilbrandt: 81.82

Source: Illinois State Bar Association poll

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