The legal community will have to wait until after Illinois’ primary election day in March to learn who will make the list of finalists for the Cook County Circuit Court’s unfilled associate judge seats.
A nominating committee of Chief Circuit Judge Timothy C. Evans and eight presiding judges announced the decision Wednesday.
The committee began conducting interviews in July 2015 for the 255 applicants who hope to fill one of the court’s 13 bench vacancies.
There were 22 fewer applicants than the last associate judge selection process in 2014, which also filled 13 spots.
The committee’s decision aims to avoid any potential appearance of impropriety since several associate judge applicants are also running for circuit judge in the March 15 primary, according to a circuit court news release.
While circuit judges are publicly elected by voters, associate judges are appointed by the circuit judges within their respective judicial circuits.
The postponement also ensures the committee avoids any potential conflict with Supreme Court Rule 67 — Canon 7 — which holds that sitting judges cannot “publicly endorse or publicly oppose another candidate for public office.”
“I commend the Nominating Committee for this action and look forward to resuming deliberations at a future date,” Evans said in the release.
Under Supreme Court Rule 39, which outlines the associate judge election and appointment process, a court’s nominating committee must select twice as many finalists as there are vacancies and send that list to the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts.
Within two weeks, the AOIC director mails a confidential ballot containing each finalist’s name to every circuit judge in that particular judicial circuit. The judges then vote for one candidate per vacancy and return the ballot within two weeks of its distribution.
However, circuit judges’ nominations are not restricted to the names on their ballots; they can also write in their own candidate choices.
Such was the case in 2014, when Associate Judge Peter J. Vilkelis earned his spot after mounting a successful campaign despite not making the committee’s short list.
The committee will address additional vacancies should any arise between now and when it reconvenes, according to the court’s statement.
Associate judges currently earn $181,220 annually as state employees, according to an Illinois Supreme Court spokeswoman.