If Judge X receives at least a 60% "yes" vote, he or she keeps the job.
Past results suggest that the current class of judges have excellent prospects for success in this retention election; the last time any Cook County judges failed to achieve a 60% yes vote was in 1990, when seven judges were removed (though one was simultaneously elected to the Appellate Court).
But that doesn't mean that judges have no reason to take retention elections seriously. It is a fact that at least two out of 10 voters will mark "no" on every single judge, no matter how qualified. In the 2012 retention election, for example, out of the roughly 60 jurists on the retention ballot, no one received an 80% "yes" vote. Appellate Court Justice James Fitzgerald Smith received a 79.81% "yes" vote and four Circuit Court judges -- Patricia Banks, Maureen Elizabeth Connors (who was simultaneously elected to the Appellate Court in 2012), Mary Colleen Roberts, and Diane M. Shelley received "yes" votes from more than 79% of the voters.
Thus, the stars of the newspapers' editorials, the individuals rated most highly qualified by all the various bar groups, can still expect to be rejected by 20% or more of the voters. Those inclined to 'throw the rascals out' will vote the retention ballot no matter what. Can we safely assume that the just-say-nay voters will number no more than 20 or 25% of the retention voters? As a lot of people learned first-hand with their IRAs in recent years, past results are not a guarantee of future performance.
But wholesale removal of judges in Cook County would not be in the public's best interests.
We have many very good, hard-working, scholarly judges in Cook County. All of the judges on the 2014 retention ballot are recommended by some of the bar associations that screen judicial candidates; the vast majority have been recommended by each each and every one of the bar groups. Here's a linked list of the posts I've put up about the bar association ratings:
For more information about Cook County judges on the retention ballot, see the 2014 Cook County Retention Judges Website.
- Chicago Bar Association releases ratings for Cook County judges seeking retention;
- Alliance retention "grids" issued;
- Chicago Council of Lawyers finds 18 retention candidates "Well Qualified" for retention; the Council rates Judge Michael Toomin "Highly Qualified"; and
- CCL rates one judge Not Qualified for retention, but it's not the same judge singled out by the CBA.
I mean to express no opinion about whether any particular judge should or should not be retained -- but I do submit that the default vote on the judicial retention ballot, in the absence of a good reason to vote otherwise, should be "yes."