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July 28, 2017: "The Responsibilities of a Circuit Judge."
Today, I'd like to talk about the responsibilities of a Circuit Judge. The Executive summary is: they do a lot! But, since this entry is much shorter than my prior offerings, I invite everyone to please continue on "below the fold" for the full story.
First, a quick review: the Sixth Circuit is made up of six counties (Champaign, DeWitt, Douglas, Macon, Moultrie and Piatt). Not all Circuit Judges are elected by the same voters. A "Resident" Circuit Judge is elected by the citizens of just one county (and, due to their larger populations, Macon County gets a spare Resident Judge while Champaign gets two). In addition, Champaign County receives three "At Large" circuit judge positions while Macon County receives two more; the "at large" positions are on the ballot in all six counties at once. That makes fourteen Circuit Judges in all. I am running for one of the "At Large" Circuit Judge positions headquartered in Champaign County.
As with other judges, "Circuits" preside over trials, sentence people convicted of crimes, issue judgments of divorce, issue tax deeds and perform hundreds of other in-court functions. But there is more to a Circuit Judge's duties than what takes place on the bench.
To begin with, they are responsible for selecting ten more "Associate" Judges to serve throughout the Sixth Circuit. These Associates have all the same powers in court as the Circuits who select them, but these selected judges are limited to 4 years terms (and depend on reappointment from those same fourteen people when their terms are up).
Circuit Judges also make the Court's rules, at least in local matters. For example, they decide what time Court is in session and what days it is open; they decide how juries are assembled for trials and how papers get filed with the Circuit Clerk; they decide the way a car accident case can be settled when a minor is involved or where someone has died. These "local rules" guide lawyers and other people who come to court. A copy of these local rules for the Sixth Circuit can be found here.
Circuit Judges elect their own boss. Specifically, they choose a "Chief" Circuit Judge from among them to make administrative decisions throughout the Sixth Circuit. For a three-year term, the Chief Judge of the Circuit has the power to assign all other judges to hear cases in any one of the six counties -- Circuits and Associates alike.
The Chief Circuit Judge also selects "Presiding" Circuit Judges, one for each county. Subject to approval by the Chief, a Presiding Judge establishes rules and policies for that County, and assigns specific judges to a particular type of case (e.g., traffic, small claims, probate, felony jury trials, etc.). As circumstances require, these appointments can change, be modified, and reinstated. Working with each county's Sheriff and County Board, the Chief Judge and the Presiding Judge of each county also ensure that courthouses are safe and properly staffed with law enforcement officers.
Presently, the Chief Circuit Judge is the Honorable Richard Broch, the Resident Circuit Judge of Douglas County. Judge Broch's administrative orders for the last two years can be found here and here. As Judge Broch's orders demonstrate, the appointments for Presiding Judge in Moultrie and Piatt County have changed 3 times over a 6 month period. On the other hand, Champaign County's Presiding Circuit Judge, the Honorable Thomas J. Difanis, has held that position since 2004.
In short, Circuit Judges are given a great deal of responsibility over our system of justice. In our Circuit, these fourteen individuals are like a board of directors for a corporation. They make the rules, select a CEO, set the policy and do other things a corporate board would do, with the added wrinkle that they also dispense justice and otherwise act as the guardians of our civil liberties.
All of these considerations make the decision of who should serve as Circuit Judge very important. As such, when citizens vote for Circuit Judge, they should select the candidate who has exceptional management skills, broad experience in the community in which they serve, and the ability to perform their functions without letting ego or rancor get in the way.
I believe I have those qualifications. As an attorney in general practice for almost 19 years, as a manager of a business with over 20 employees operating offices in Champaign, Douglas and Piatt County, and as a citizen deeply invested in the work of civic organizations throughout the Circuit, I believe that I have the necessary experience, temperament and understanding of our community to serve as Circuit Judge of the Sixth Circuit.
I ask for your vote in the coming election, and I welcome the opportunity to meet and discuss the issues facing the Court through the course of this campaign.
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