CHICAGO — I am speaking for the entire Illinois Supreme Court.
Now that the primary campaign is history, a campaign during which misinformation was used to criticize the court, it is time to set the record straight.
Perception is frequently a distant relative to reality. Criticism often stems from lack of knowledge. The fact is that the Supreme Court did show leadership in connection with the horrible blight of Greylord. Its response to court corruption has not been timid. It has been both prudent and strong.
There are distinct limitations on the authority of the Illinois Supreme Court in the disciplining of judges, limitations imposed by the state Constitution. The authority to investigate a judge and to file complaints charging misconduct rest with a Judicial Inquiry Board. The authority to act on these complaints rests with the Illinois Courts Commission.
Article VI, Section 15 (e) of the Constitution reads, in part, “The Commission shall have authority after notice and public hearing, (1) to remove from office, suspend without pay, censure or reprimand a judge or associate judge for willful misconduct in office, persistent failure to perform his duties, or other conduct which is prejudicial to the administration of justice or that brings the judicial office into disrepute.“
The Courts Commission is completely independent of the Supreme Court, and there is no appeal possible to the Supreme Court. Also, the Supreme Court does not have authority to initiate criminal prosecutions. Violations of criminal law are prosecuted by the appropriate state and federal authorities. Despite these constitutional limitations, the court contributed significantly to the success of the Greylord investigation. The Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, an agency created by the court and charged with the disciplining of attorneys, furnished information to federal investigators that contributed to successful prosecutions.
Early in the federal investigation, the court directed the commission to make its files available to the U.S. attorney. This action aided in the probe and eventually resulted in the disbarment of 12 judges and 48 attorneys implicated in Greylord.
Then-U.S. Atty. Dan Webb wrote in 1984 that “the Commission has been fully cooperative and extremely helpful in the Greylord investigation.“ He said his office had been assisted “in every way possible.“
About the same time, the Supreme Court authorized the appointment of what came to be known as the Solovy Committee by the chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County. When the commission issued its report, the court adopted its recommendations where warranted.
The Supreme Court has promulgated stringent rules covering financial disclosure by judges, including public filing of financial statements. Mandatory seminars on ethics are held for all judges annually. New and stricter rules of professional conduct for attorneys have been approved. One imposes on lawyers and judges the obligation to report judges who violate the Code of Judicial Conduct. Lawyers have similar obligations regarding other attorneys and judges and the Supreme Corut has disciplined attorneys who failed to live up to that obligation. A blue-ribbon committee appointed by the court recommended changes in operations of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, including putting non-lawyers on the Inquiry Board, a panel equivalent to a grand jury. This was adopted by the court. Earlier, by the court`s own action, three non-lawyers were appointed as commissioners. Also adopted were recommendations that complainants against lawyers be assured immunity from suit, and that hearings before the Hearing and Review Boards be open to the news media and the public.
Court corruption is a sinister web. Self-regulation isn`t perfect, no more than is man. But shrill rhetoric in a political campaign, based on faulty information and suspect remedies, only misleads the public. And simplistic calls for “leadership“ and “reform“ ring hollow long after election day