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Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
Office sought: Appellate Court 1st District (O'Brien)
Family: I am divorced with two daughters. My oldest is a 2011 graduate of the University of Michigan. The little one is in grade school.
Occupation: I am a Circuit Court judge, elected in 1996. In 2003, the Illinois Supreme Court assigned me to the Appellate Court, where I continue to sit.
Education: In 1981, I earned my law degree from the University of Chicago Law School. In January 1976, I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Economics.
Civic involvement: I am a member of Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois and the Puerto Rican Bar Association.
Elected offices held: I was elected a Circuit Court judge from the 14th Subcircuit in November 1996. From December 1996 to March 1997, I served in the Fourth District Maybrook courthouse. In March 1997, at the request of then Presiding Judge Tom Fitzgerald, I transferred to the Criminal Courts of Cook County where I remained until I was elevated to the Appellate Court in March 2003 by the Illinois Supreme Court. In 2003, Presiding Judge Fitzgerald was now Justice Fitzgerald, sitting on the Illinois Supreme Court.
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No
Key Issue 1
Judicial independence is the number one issue in my campaign. There was a time when judges were seen as patronage workers for politicians. We must never go back to having a politician decide on which judicial candidate to back for any reason other than that candidate's ability to do the work of a judge. There must be a clear and unbroken line between politics and the work of judges on the bench. The selection of state judges must have the same bottom line as the selection of federal judges: which candidate for the Appellate Court has demonstrated the judicial performance to best serve the interests of the people of Cook County, the Appellate Court and our judicial system.
Key Issue 2
The number two issue in my campaign is providing the voting public with a basis to exercise his or her vote in deciding which candidate to vote for the Illinois Appellate Court. I like to make the comparison to the recognition given to "good teachers." Those unfamiliar with the day to day performance of a teacher simply cannot know which of many qualifies as a good teacher. We generally leave that selection to other teachers or students. The difficulty for the general public in voting for judges is much the same. They need something on which to base their vote. I offer my Lawyers's Committee to confirm that my judicial performance on the Appellate Court has earned the support of those that really know.
Key Issue 3
My third and related campaign issue is that the voting public should be encouraged to keep experienced judges on our courts. With my service on the Appellate Court since 2003, I am now the 8th most senior judge of the 24 that sit on the Appellate Court for the First District. All judges are paid the same; it makes sense to keep those that have a sufficiently long tenure to have demonstrated the judicial skills needed to carry out the requirements of the office. Election to the Appellate Court requires that the candidate demonstrate an analytical mind coupled with good writing skills. I provide the public with every opinion I have written on my website at GarciaForAppellateCourt.com.
Do you favor the appointment of judges or do you prefer the election process' Please explain your answer.
At the time of my election from a subcircuit I supported the election process. Now that I am in the midst of a county-wide race, I have substantial doubts that electing lower court judges serves the best interests of Cook County residents if electing the best qualified and able candidate is the goal. I now lean toward an appointment of judges for the circuit and appellate courts by the Illinois Supreme Court, while continuing to elect the justices of the Illinois Supreme Court. I have found it nearly impossible to persuade groups that claim an interest in judicial races that judicial performance is the most critical of qualifications for an appellate court judge. Many groups seem only interested in asking how a judicial candidate might serve their own interest or in supporting the candidate that is seen as the likely winner so as to claim a part of that victory.
What special qualifications or experiences make you the best person to serve as a judge?
Following an open application process following the retirement of Judge David Cerda, the first Hispanic to serve on the Appellate Court, I was selected by the Illinois Supreme Court to succeed Judge Cerda. I have served on the appellate court since March 2003, with many of the more than 140 published decisions being well received. Of the 10 majority decisions reviewed by the Supreme Court, I have been upheld in 8. Of the 3 cases reviewed in which I wrote a dissent, the Supreme Court followed the outcome in my dissent in two. To permit an independent assessment of the quality of my decisions, I have posted every published decision I have written on my website at GarciaForAppellateCourt.com.
What are your thoughts on mandatory sentencing? Do you believe judges should have greater leeway when it comes to sentencing defendants' Why or why not?
While I have some misgivings about mandatory sentencing because it can curtail the discretion judges should have in imposing a sentence, during my time at the Criminal Courts of Cook County I found few problems with mandatory sentences in pratice. It is well known that in Cook County most criminal cases are tried as bench trials with the judge as trier of fact. This permits a seasoned, fair and able judge to retain discretion on sentencing by determining the offense the defendant is found to have committed. I served for nearly seven years at the Criminal Courts. I believe I established a good reputation as a judge.
What are your thoughts on the use of drug courts, domestic violence courts, veterans courts, mental health courts and prostitution courts' Have they been effective?
I support specialized courts to deal with problems that tend to recur. Drugs and domestic violence courts are clear examples where specialized training of judges can permit greater consideration of cases where rehabilitation should be attempted or where punishment is compelled. If the comparison is made between specialized courts and general courts, I believe specialized courts have shown greater effectiveness, though I don't know how much greater that effectiveness has been.
Do you support eliminating the ban on cameras and recording devices in Illinois courtrooms' Why or why not?
I find no problems with permitting cameras and other recording devices in Illinois courtrooms. Arguments in the Appellate Court and Supreme Court are recorded and may be heard online. The concern that the presence of cameras would alter the behavior of attorneys or litigants by "playing up to the camera" has, I believe, not been substantiated by the experience in other states.