Originally Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2010, 12:00 am
Last Updated: Sept. 16, 2010, 11:16 am

Quad-Citian Tom Kilbride is tapped to head Illinois Supreme Court

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Illinois Statehouse News

Photo:
Justice Thomas Kilbride

SPRINGFIELD -- Supreme Court Justice Tom Kilbride has been selected by his colleagues to be chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, Illinois Statehouse News has learned.

The order will come down today naming the 10-year veteran of the high court to be its leader for a three-year term beginning Oct. 26, a source familiar with the situation said late Wednesday.

But whether his time as chief justice will be for the full three years or just a few weeks will be determined by the voters Nov. 2.

The Third District, which Kilbride represents, stretches across 21 counties in northern Illinois and is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. It encompasses Kankakee County where he grew up, LaSalle County where he was born and Rock Island County where Kilbride lives.

Every 10 years, Illinois Supreme Court justices must stand for retention. At least 60 percent of voters must vote for retaining a judge in order for the person to remain in office.

Ordinarily these elections are uneventful affairs. But this year Kilbride is being targeted for removal from the court by groups unhappy with how the court has ruled.

That strategy is part of a growing national trend in which groups representing doctors, hospitals, manufacturers and other businesses that often are sued work to reshape the judiciary.

Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, said his group is targeting Kilbride because it is unhappy with a number of votes he cast concerning business. Much of the Civil Justice League's funding comes from business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald announced Monday that he will be retiring from the Supreme Court Oct. 25 because he has Parkinson's Disease. Chief justices are selected by their colleagues to serve three year terms and traditionally it is rotated between Cook County justices and those from other parts of the state.

Kilbride was expected to be next in line in the rotation.

"It was his turn," Murnane said.

"I think the timing of Justice Fitzgerald's retirement is interesting," he added. "He is retiring a week before the election and this should give Kilbride a nice PR boost right before the election."

But Mike Lawrence, past director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said he doubts it will have much impact.

"Ultimately voters are going to make a decision based on Justice Kilbride's qualifications and how well the judge has comported himself," he said. "Whether or not he is chief justice shouldn't make a difference."