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updated: 9/21/2012 4:31 PM

John Dalton: Candidate Profile

16h Circuit, 2nd Subcircuit (Seat A) (Democrat)

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  • John Dalton, running for 16h Circuit, 2nd Subcircuit (Seat A)

      John Dalton, running for 16h Circuit, 2nd Subcircuit (Seat A)

 

 

 

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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.

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BioKey IssuesQ&A

 

Bio

City: Elgin

Website: http://www.johndaltonforjudge.com

Office sought: 16h Circuit, 2nd Subcircuit (Seat A)

Age: 50

Family: Married, no children, but lots of nephews, nieces, great nephews and great nieces.

Occupation: Attorney

Education: Augustana College (BA,1984) & University of Illinois College of Law (JD, 1987), graduating magna cum laude from both. I was Assoc. Editor of the Law Review and was awarded the Order of the Coif and Am Jur Prizes for both Civil Procedure & Trial Advocacy.

Civic involvement: I have deep roots in the community and a long record of service. My affiliations include the following, among others: Deacon, Church Council Member and Bible Study Facilitator, First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, which is Elgin's oldest church. Volunteer at FCC?s ?Soup Kettle?, which feeds the hungry. Big Brothers/Big Sisters (Served as a "big brother? to a fatherless child). Board Member and Chairman Marketing and Development Committee, Elgin Symphony Orchestra. Trustee Elgin Community College (?ECC?) Board of Trustees, where I spearheaded passage of a new Illinois law to allow Community Colleges to "Buy American". Board Liaison, ECC Foundation Board. Commissioner of the Elgin Heritage Commission?s Design Review Subcommittee. Commissioner on the McHenry County Historic Preservation Commission. Member Kane County Bar Association, Serving on the Bench and Bar Committee, which works to improve the civility and professionalism of the county's lawyers. Member of School District U-46 Handbook Committee: Ensured that new bullying, harassment and discrimination protection rules were added to the handbook. Co-founder and Chairman of Elgin?s Speak Out Against Prejudice (SOAP) organization, which, under my leadership, received the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award "for outstanding achievement in the field of civil rights/community relations advocacy." Board Member of the Campanelli YMCA, which used to be called the Twinbrook YMCA, where I served for over ten years, held a number of leadership posts and received both the Twinbrook Award and the Service to Youth Award. Board Chairman and Finance Committee Chairman of Famous Door Theatre Company which was the recipient of the Chicago Business Volunteers for the Arts Award under my leadership. Member Elgin Hispanic Network, NorthEast Neighborhood Association, Elgin Chamber of Commerce, and Downtown Neighborhood Association. Supporter of Elgin Crisis Center, Ecker Center for Mental Health, Boys & Girls Club, Larkin Center, and many others.

Elected offices held: I am currently serving as an Elgin Community College Trustee, representing over a half million citizens in a 360 square mile district that encompasses 32 municipalities and parts of five counties. Unfortunately, a state constitutional provision would require me to step down as a Trustee if elected Judge.

Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No.

Candidate's Key Issues

Key Issue 1

I'm running for Kane County Resident Judge, Second Subcircuit, because the people of Kane County deserve to have judges they can rely on to uphold the integrity of the law. As a Circuit Court Judge, I will work hard to protect the rights of Kane County citizens, remaining a fair and independent voice for the people. I believe that serving as judge is an opportunity to give back to the people of Kane County, who have given me so much. I will work hard to implement practices that save time and money. For example, if elected, I will urge the court to make its website state of the art and user friendly. I?ll suggest adding the capability to resolve minor traffic offenses online by paying the fine, seeking a trial date or asking for court supervision. The result would be fewer minor, routine cases heard in a courtroom, saving money for taxpayers. We?d save money on judges, clerks, bailiffs, courtrooms, prosecutors, etc., and the public wouldn?t have to take time away from work or family to spend the day in court, burn a half a tank of gas getting there, etc. Making the system handle the routine matters more efficiently would free up those valuable judicial resources to handle more important matters, and lessen the need for costly new Judges and courthouse expansion.

Key Issue 2

As a candidate, I think accepting donations from lawyers, or organizations that represent lawyers, creates a conflict of interest, so I?m refusing donations from lawyers, and I challenged my opponent to do the same, but he refused. According to a report published by The Brennan Center for Justice, ??over two-thirds of citizens and nearly half of state judges believe that campaign contributions influence judge?s decisions?? The report, "Fair Courts: Setting Recusal Standards," cited studies of judicial rulings in Ohio and Louisiana which showed a strong correlation between campaign contributions and judicial decisions. I think the court must be independent and demonstrate integrity, not just talk about it. Unlimited donations from lawyers corrupts the process. Those same lawyers may appear before me in court, and that?s not ethical. It?s just not right. The citizens of Kane County have the right to a fair trial and an impartial judge. Accepting contributions from attorneys would bring my independence and integrity into question, so I'm just not going to do it. I wish my opponent felt the same way.

Key Issue 3

Though recent steps have been taken to improve the situation, such as adding three new judges, there is still a backlog of criminal cases in Kane County. This is a complex problem that will likely require a multi-pronged approach and I don't pretend to have all the answers. The backlog causes a number of expensive problems, including increasing overcrowding at the jail due to the number of pretrial detainees. Obviously, to clear up any backlog, an extraordinary effort is required, which may be difficult during a time when governmental budgets are under such tremendous stress. The Circuit simply has to move the existing cases along to trial or other resolution at a greater rate than new cases are filed. Since it's not possible to cut corners in such a way that the process is speeded up by denying defendants due process, it seems clear that more resources and greater efficiency are both needed. The three new judges may be a part of the solution. Obviously, more judges could be assigned from the existing complement of judges as well, particularly if we freed up some of the judges handling routine transactions that could be better handled online as discussed above. Providing more resources to the prosecutors and public defenders would also help because some of the delays stem from requests for continuances due to their heavy work load. External delays, such as the delays experienced in the past with getting DUI blood test results, must also be addressed. Finally, the judges themselves are critical to the solution. They must have the necessary support staff (including an adequate number of caseflow coordinators and law clerks) so that they can focus solely on judicial functions, the MIS information technology to understand what is happening and to manage the process, and the training, discipline and caseflow management techniques to overcome the problem. For example, caseflow management might include, where appropriate: (1) scrutinizing cases at arraignment and entering a scheduling order then for each case that provides a timetable for all subsequent events leading up to a fair and expeditious disposition that is also in keeping with reasonable time standards; (2) ensuring full and open discovery; (3) maintaining a strict continuance policy; (4) setting early and reasonably firm trial dates; and (5) managing trials effectively. Effective trial management would include, where appropriate, trial-management techniques such as the following: (1) resolve motions before cases reach the "trial ready" stage; (2) hold trial-management conferences shortly before trial; (3) control questioning of prospective jurors during voir dire; (4) limit opening statements; (5) reduce unnecessary and repetitive evidence; (6) maintain trial momentum by holding trial on contiguous court days and using the full day without interruptions for other business; (7) limit closing statements; and (8) make preliminary arrangements relating to jury instructions in advance. A number of reports have been written for other court systems that experienced this problem, and we could learn a lot from them without reinventing the wheel. For example, I relied, in part, on one prepared for Cook County in this response. In a rapidly growing County, like Kane County, elected leaders must ensure that the court system has the necessary resources to keep pace with the growth in order to ensure that an efficient and fair judicial system is in place to serve the growing population. In addition, the judiciary has to ensure that it is making the most of its limited resources and has deployed them wisely, or a backlog will simply redevelop over time.

Questions & Answers

Do you favor the appointment of judges or do you prefer the election process? Please explain your answer.

Appointing judges runs the risk of making the judiciary into just another patronage job to be doled out by the person or party in power. For example, if the Governor appointed all the judges, could we be sure he or she would pick the best and the brightest, or might these important jobs go to friends and supporters? What if Blagojevich was still Governor? A free and fair election is still the best way devised by the mind of man to select our leaders. Sure it's imperfect, but no one has come up with a better mechanism to make such critical choices. We are all affected by judges, so we should all have some say in selecting them. I do believe, however, that these elections should be nonpartisan, and public financing should be explored. Forcing potential jurists to run a partisan political campaign, with all that entails, then expecting them to be nonpartisan if they're elected is unrealistic. Nonpartisan judicial elections would change the focus from what party the candidate comes from to who would make the best judge. That should be the focus, and all too often it gets obscured by party politics.

What special qualifications or experiences make you the best person to serve as a judge?

I have a top notch education, a wealth of diverse experience as a trial attorney for 25 years, and a rich assortment of life experiences derived form my deep engagement with my community. In addition, I have served as an elected official, and have ten years experience as an Arbitration Chairman. These qualifications and experiences have prepared me well for the challenges the bench would present. A summary of my qualifications follows. In 2011, when I sought appointment as an Associate Judge, the Kane County Bar Association rated me "Recommended" for the appointment. I am humbled by the special recognition I've received, including: 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award 2011 Illinois Bar Association SOGI Community Leadership Award 2011 LPHS Distinguished Alumni Award YMCA Service to Youth Award YMCA Twinbrook Award I attended College at Augustana (BA, Political Science/Pre-Law, 1984) and law school at the University of Illinois (JD, 1987), graduating Magna Cum Laude (High Honors) from both. At law school, I was Associate Editor of the Law Review, a Rickert Scholar, a Harno Scholar, and was awarded the prestigious Order of the Coif as well as the Am Jur Prizes for both Civil Procedure & Trial Advocacy, among other honors. I have the RIGHT experience: 10 years as an Arbitration Chairman for the Cook County Court Annexed Mandatory Arbitration program (managing a courtroom, ruling on objections and deciding hundreds of cases); and 25 years as an attorney in dozens of trials, handling cases involving many millions of dollars, in state and federal court, including complex litigation, antitrust, products liability, civil rights, personal injury, fraud, breach of contract and class actions, among many, many others. I've represented every kind of client, from poor folks that could not afford a lawyer (for free), to the largest companies on the planet: Citigroup, Sears, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Foster Wheeler, McDonnell Douglas, etc. I currently own my own firm in my home town of Elgin, and for several years now, I've spent the vast majority of my time in Kane County Circuit Court. I've also handled nearly every kind of case and appeared in virtually every courtroom or administrative tribunal in Northern Illinois (and several other states as well), including the EEOC, NLRB, IDHR, IL Department of Revenue, Workers' Compensation Board, Bankruptcy Court, City of Chicago Administrative Proceedings, Chicago Fire Pension Board, etc. You name it, I've done it at some time in my 25 year career. I have sufficient trial experience to have been certified as a member of the Federal Trial Bar (something my opponent cannot match). In fact, compare my credentials with my opponent's side-by-side. The choice is clear.

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?

Mandatory sentencing is beguiling. Politicians like it because it gives them an opportunity to show they're "tough on crime." Certainly the legislature has a critical role to play in setting the range of penalties for the crimes they create by statute. They are the peoples' representatives after all. Perhaps some crimes are so serious that a mandatory sentence is appropriate. But mandatory sentences can sometimes go too far in eliminating the court's discretion. There are cases where a law has been technically violated, but the facts are such that the legislature likely did not consider the possible application of the law to such a situation, or society is simply not well served by a harsh punishment under the unique circumstances of the case. This is where a judge should have the opportunity to exercise discretion to see to it the the legislature's intent is followed and the administration of the law is not reduced to an inflexible, arbitrary process. Ultimately this is a decision for the legislature, and perhaps the appellate courts. If mandatory sentences are adopted, a Circuit Court Judge must follow the law.

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?

Kane County has a number of special courts that have been designed to mete out justice using special tools, procedures or processes that differ from the ordinary criminal court. I strongly support the use of such devices to address the diversity of our society in a pragmatic and cost effective way. Assuming all crimes and all defendants are the same and using a cookie cutter approach that forces every case down an identical, routine path ignores reality, wastes money and is ultimately ineffective. Take drug court, for example. Common sense tells you that some offenders are suffering from an addiction that could best be treated using a combination of counseling and medically supervised rehabilitation (at the offender's expense). Ordering those treatments and administering regular drug tests to ensure the offender is complying, as the Drug Court often does, is an enlightened approach that has far better hope of actually addressing the problem and preventing reoccurrence than time in jail at great taxpayer expense with no treatment. If treatment fails, there is still the option of sending the offender to jail. Minimizing the number incarcerated for minor drug offenses saves money and ensures adequate jail space is available for violent criminals and others for whom jail time is a more appropriate punishment. Of course, there are limits. We cannot have a system where each crime or type of criminal needs its own courtroom. Judges can and do evaluate the special circumstances of many offenses or offenders in handing down their decisions, so these types of special courts should be limited to situations where there is a demonstrated need, and proven effectiveness.

Do you support eliminating the ban on cameras and recording devices in Illinois courtrooms? Why or why not?

There are sound arguments on both sides of this question. On the one hand, free speech advocates are absolutely correct in asserting that "sunlight is the best disinfectant," and greater access to our courts by the press would likely make the judiciary better understood, more accountable and responsive. Generally I believe in transparency, and allowing citizens to see their courts in action could have some salutary effects on judicial temperament and demeanor. On the other hand, cameras can be very disruptive. Did it help or hinder the administration of justice to have cameras in the OJ Simpson courtroom? Do cameras sometimes affect the behavior of the judge, lawyers and witnesses? Do we want lawyers showing off for the cameras? Would greater publicity of an unpopular but legally correct decision make a judge hesitate to do the right thing? Moreover, many cases involve sensitive matters that simply don't belong on YouTube. Should you have to give up all your privacy and dignity in order to get a divorce? Should testimony from minors, rape victims, and plaintiff's whose injuries have affected them in embarrassing ways be recorded and broadcast without any limits or controls? The Illinois Supreme Court recently lifted its prior ban on recording devices and, will now allow news cameras in trial courts for the first time. The new Supreme Court directive is a pilot program. The 16th Circuit has a committee working on an application to the Illinois Supreme Court to allow the program here. The new rules include some important protections to address the concerns described above, including the fact that the trial judge will retain discretion over whether cameras will be allowed in any specific case, a witness may object, in sexual abuse cases the victim must consent, objections by a victim to a forcible felony case, police informants, undercover agents and relocated witnesses will be presumed valid, there will be no coverage in any juvenile, divorce, adoption, child custody, evidence suppression or trade secret cases, and jury selection shall not be covered. These protections may strike the just right balance between open courts and fair trials, and if problems are identified as the initial circuits granted permission to participate in the pilot program implement it, we can expect the court to make modifications to address any problems that do arise.

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