The sometimes stark difference between those who govern and those who are governed was highlighted recently in the case of a Sangamon County judge who was angry that his daughter received a traffic ticket.
Here's a novel argument members of the local defense bar can try in their next case: Your honor, my client's embarrassment over being caught is so great that he's suffered enough and no further punishment, not even a slap on the wrist, is warranted.
It's a proven winner, but there's a catch — you have to have the right client, someone powerful, someone connected, someone like a sitting judge.
Sangamon County Associate Judge Chris Perrin got his teen daughter's traffic ticket dismissed because of who he is, and he was able to avoid a formal reprimand for his misbehavior because of who he is.
It's a good deal if you can get it. Most people can't, and that's the problem.
Here's the background. Judge Perrin's daughter received a minor traffic citation on April 30, 2010. Instead of having his daughter contest the ticket or plead guilty, Judge Perrin casually mentioned to the traffic court judge, Robert Hall, that his daughter was to appear in front of Hall in a traffic case.
Judge Hall, who was angry about his heavy case load and looking to help a colleague, then dismissed the case without the consent of the state's attorney's office.
An investigation followed after the state's attorney's office noticed the judge's improper dismissal and complained. Judge Hall, who had planned to retire in September 2010, stepped down three months early. He later pleaded guilty to indirect contempt of court for falsifying documents.
The state's Judicial Inquiry Board voted to formally reprimand Perrin for his role in this embarrassment. But the Illinois Courts Commission recently overruled the order of a reprimand by a 5-1 vote.
"By reaching out to Judge Hall, (Perrin) did not conduct himself in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary," the commission majority concluded in a note of gross understatement.
But it held that Perrin's violation was not all that serious, found that Perrin is a fine fellow admired by his friend and colleagues, that he had acted in an "inadvertent" manner in informing Judge Hall of his daughter's ticket and had "suffered a very substantial, private and public embarrassment."
Perrin should have been embarrassed, as he was after he was caught, but he also deserved a more serious punishment than the reprimand he escaped.
It's despicable when the courthouse insiders put their thumb on the scale of justice, and that's what happened here.
This type of misbehavior strikes at the heart of what the judiciary is supposed to be about — equal justice for all. It sends the message that while everyone is equal before the law, some are more equal than others.
It's clear from the court commission's opinion that Judge Perrin was incensed that his daughter received a ticket. He spoke with a member of the police department that issued the ticket, went to another judge for advice on how to handle the matter (completely ignoring what he was told) and then brought up the subject to the traffic court judge.
Perrin's conversation with Hall was a major league violation of court rules called an ex parte conversation. That Hall was foolish enough to dismiss the case in no way absolved Perrin of his judicial duty to follow established rules that were pointed out to him during required ethics training.
Perrin's action is a blot on both his integrity and judgment. That a commission majority found Perrin's misconduct unworthy of even a formal reprimand represents a blot on the entire judicial system in Illinois.