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Please, stop doing stuff like this

Monday, Sep 18, 2023 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Among other things, sitting Illinois judges are prohibited by Illinois Supreme Court Rule 4.1 from making “speeches on behalf of a political organization” or soliciting funds for a political organization or candidate, except when they’re up for election or retention.

So, you might ask, what the heck was Illinois Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Rochford thinking when she decided to accept an invitation to be the keynote speaker at the Lake County Democratic Women’s annual fundraising gala on Sept. 9?

The registered political action committee is one of the most influential independent countywide campaign groups of its kind in all of Illinois, having helped recruit, train and then elect dozens of local candidates over the years (including Rochford herself).

“Illinois voters deserve a fair and impartial state Supreme Court that’s free of and from politics, which does not appear to be the case here,” said Illinois Republican Party Executive Director Shaun McCabe in a press release last week about Rochford’s speech.

“The Illinois Supreme Court’s Code of Judicial Conduct (Canon 4, Page 48-50) is clear: sitting judges who aren’t up for election shall not speak at political functions supporting the election of candidates,” the Illinois Republican Party’s press release claimed. A Republican Party official said later we can expect a formal complaint will be filed soon.

The controversy boils down to two questions about the Supreme Court’s rule: 1) Did Rochford make a speech on behalf of a political organization? And 2) Did her role as keynote speaker mean she was soliciting funds for the Lake County Democratic Women PAC?

Rochford’s defenders say “no” to both questions. She gave a non-political speech “to” a political group, not “on behalf” of it. And she didn’t do anything to solicit any money for the political action committee.

Rochford herself issued a rare statement to me last week: “I receive speaking requests from many groups and organizations. I believe it is important for judges to appear in public and help educate people about the Judicial Branch. My speech at this event was about the work of the Illinois Supreme Court, its non-partisan nature and the collegiality that is fostered by our unique lodging arrangement during court terms. The content of my speech was not political in any way and so should not be construed to have been provided on behalf of any political candidate or organization.”

Others who were at the event confirmed Rochford’s claim she said nothing that could be construed as partisan or campaign related in nature.

I totally get the narrow and lawyerly interpretation. Any formal Republican complaints are likely doomed because of it. These are lawyers, after all. Words are carefully chosen for good reason.

And, more importantly, we elect our judges in Illinois, so that means we do have to accept they are inherently political beings. If they were all appointed and confirmed by the state Senate, or whatever, it would be a different story.

But, I mean, come on.

Keynote speakers are usually invited because they help legitimize the organization and, as a result, drive increased attendance. And robust attendance is obviously very crucial to the success of any annual fundraiser.

So, while Rochford didn’t technically speak “on behalf” of the group, she did help the Lake County Democratic Women further prove its bona fides by agreeing to speak.

And while she did not directly raise money for the group that helped nominate her in a competitive Democratic primary and then elect her over a Lake County Republican general election opponent, it should have been abundantly clear her very presence undoubtedly helped the group raise at least some campaign money that it might possibly not have brought in without her.

Rochford has been around politics for a very long time. She most certainly knows this speech was far different from presenting to a law school symposium or bar organization.

I’m not saying judges and justices should cloister themselves away like monks. But they should at least try to keep up appearances when they’re not actively campaigning, especially during an era when every decision by just about every Supreme Court in the land, including the U.S. Supreme Court, is being analyzed for political bents.

       

16 Comments
  1. - Pot calling kettle - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 9:53 am:

    She could have also booked a speech with the Republican counterpart organization and then announced both at the same time…but, she didn’t.


  2. - ArchPundit - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 10:05 am:

    But even that is a political choice, Pot. She will oversee challenges from 3rd parties at times. The best way is to avoid specifically partisan groups.


  3. - Lincoln Lad - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 10:05 am:

    Demonstrates poor judgment on her part… just what you want in a judge… like you said Rich, stop doing stuff like this. Be better


  4. - Homebody - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 10:14 am:

    Keeping up appearances is bad. Judges make politically important decisions on a daily basis, especially appellate or supreme court judges and justices. The whole theatrical pretending that judges aren’t human beings with established positions on issues is a farce, and actively harms public perception of the judiciary and legitimacy of government.

    Also, it won’t stop groups like the Federalist Society from doing what they are doing anyways. It won’t stop SCOTUS appointees from lying during confirmation hearings.

    So let’s stop pretending.


  5. - Bruce( no not him) - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 10:15 am:

    She’s just following the US Supreme Court.
    “Rules? We don’t follow no stinkin’ rules.”


  6. - Drury's Missing Clock - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 10:22 am:

    You simply cannot expect a successful attorney to believe that the rules apply equally to their self.


  7. - Dolores R - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 10:25 am:

    This is a pattern of behavior from her now. After being sworn in, she also partook in a gun control lobbying event for the gun ban. She refused to recuse from it when motioned to do so as well. She has been very unethical and seems like she just doesn’t care
    https://www.mom-at-arms.com/post/major-hurdle-for-the-il-supreme-court-justice-who-upheld-the-il-gun-ban


  8. - This - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 10:31 am:

    It’s amateur hour for Judge Rochford. Any Supreme Court justice with an ounce of common sense would never agree to a keynote role for a political party event. Perception is nine tenths of the game.


  9. - Red ketcher - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 10:35 am:

    Appearance of Impropriety is as Bad as Impropriety


  10. - JB13 - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 10:38 am:

    – She has been very unethical and seems like she just doesn’t care –

    Indeed. But why *should* she care?

    Nothing is going to happen to her. And she will remain on the court for as long as long as she wishes.

    Perhaps she may even get to deliver a diatribe or two along the way, reminding others of their ethical and civic obligations under the law and rules imposed by the court. One can always hope.


  11. - Donnie Elgin - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 10:46 am:

    “we elect our judges in Illinois, so that means we do have to accept they are inherently political beings”

    There are very clear rules about speeches at political fundraisers. These are extremely smart folks, no excuses for breaking the rules. Judges for sure know the meaning of “Shall not”


  12. - Gravitas - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 11:05 am:

    This is a very good article that summarizes the issues precisely.

    My take is that Rochford did cross the ethical line, but only barely. She needs to do better in future.

    It is a safe assumption that the Lake County Democratic Women raised more funds due to Rochford being promoted as the guest speaker.


  13. - Hank Sauer - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 11:25 am:

    Nothing to see here. Move on


  14. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 11:40 am:

    First, it’s good stuff by Rich to lay out a discussion in the column to what and why, not just the partisan that even here in comments lather up the “in-law uncles”.

    For me?

    It’s to the crux of the ethics, and keeping it Illinois and the column above’s own points at hand, until it’s legislatively forbidden outside an ethical requirement, my hope is this would end on its own, but fear it might not without further actions.

    I don’t think it’s good by its appearance or even the intent of it here, but there needs to be a line drawn, unequivocal or undeniable to these type of acts., stopping it might need far more red lights then guard rails.

    Doesn’t mean I agree with this choice, but there needs to be that line brighter and harsher. Now.


  15. - hisgirlfriday - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 1:38 pm:

    I do not buy into the distinction between judicial speeches after election vs. before but to the extent it does matter this feels like selective outrage.

    Lisa Holder White was not an announced candidate when she appeared in May at the Peoria-Tazewell Lincoln Day GOP fundraiser where Ron DeSantis also appeared.

    Her campaign announcement was not until June.

    But that was A-OK with the GOP.


  16. - Rich Miller - Monday, Sep 18, 23 @ 9:04 pm:

    ===Her campaign announcement was not until June.===

    She’s on the ballot next year. There is a difference.


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