Editorial | Backing Webber, Rosenbaum for seats on bench

Editorial | Backing Webber, Rosenbaum for seats on bench

Judging would-be judges is among the most important decisions voters make.

Many people don't think much about judges, unless they're involved in litigation before them.

Frankly, there's not much reason to give them a great deal of thought — with one major caveat. These positions are vitally important to the proper rule of law, so it matters — a lot — who fills the trial court positions.

Although residents in the six-county Sixth Judicial Circuit — Champaign, DeWitt, Douglas, Moultrie, Macon and Piatt — will vote Nov. 6 on two at-large judicial positions, they will preside at the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana.

In one, Republican Circuit Judge Roger Webber, an associate judge before being appointed to fill the position vacated by retired Judge Arnold Blockman, faces Democrat Ramona Sullivan, an assistant public defender.

In the other, Republican Circuit Judge Randy Rosenbaum, the longtime Champaign County public defender before being appointed to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Circuit Judge Harry Clem, faces Democrat Chad Beckett, an Urbana lawyer.

In those two contests, The News-Gazette endorses Webber and Rosenbaum for the same reason — they have performed extremely well in their current posts, and there is no compelling reason to make a change.

Much has been made in this race of the bar poll ratings given the candidates, particularly by Beckett. Smarting after receiving an unqualified rating in a lawyer poll, Beckett has charged that he's the victim of Republican lawyers who downgraded him for political reasons. He further suggests Sullivan, who was deemed qualified, received lower ratings as a result of the same bias.

Beckett stated in a recent letter that he was given a "well-qualified" rating by a citizen review panel when he sought appointment to fill a judicial vacancy in 2016. He said he "was recommended to (Supreme Court) Justice (Rita) Garman" at that time and also was deemed "qualified" by a review panel when he sought appointment to fill a 2018 vacancy.

Garman, who fills the vacancies in her judicial district, confirmed Beckett received both the "highly qualified" and "qualified" ratings he claims. But she said members of her advisory committee "don't make a recommendation" as to whom she should appoint.

So Beckett either is or is not qualified, depending on a bar boll or a lawyer review committee.

Bar polls are suspect for obvious reasons. Lawyers are subject to the same partisan and personal emotions as everyone else. Downgrading a disliked rival is a good way to get even.

Further, bar polls measure some qualities that are unmeasureable. How does one rate a judicial candidate's "court management" ability when that candidate has always been a lawyer, never a judge with a court to manage.

But while low ratings can lack credibility, high ratings are generally reliable and persuasive.

In that respect, the exceptionally high ratings both Webber and Rosenbaum received from the lawyers who watch them in action and appear before them speak volumes.

In the eight categories in which ratings were given, Webber's lowest score was 94.16 on a 100-point scale. In the other seven categories, he received scores no lower than 97.71.

In the eight categories in which Rosenbaum was rated, his lowest score was 94.69 and his lowest score in the other seven categories was 95.73. Rosenbaum received a perfect 100 on integrity, which is what the public wants to see in its judicial system but too often does not.

Beckett has a long track record in civil law. Sullivan has similar experience as a former Land of Lincoln lawyer for the indigent and an assistant public defender handling misdemeanors.

But those qualities pale in comparison to those of Webber and Rosenbaum.

One more thing voters should know.

If they wish to vote for Beckett for judge, that's fine. But they need to realize that the Beckett on the ballot is not the well-known Steve Beckett, former University of Illinois law professor, Champaign County board member, widely respected criminal defense lawyer and community volunteer.

Chad Beckett is Steve Beckett's son. Voters have been confused in the past when one candidate's name has been similar to that of another well-known and popular person. They should be careful when they cast their ballots.

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