Kane County judge hopefuls diverge on top needs and priorities
Five people seeking their party's nomination for an at-large Kane County judge seat differ on what they believe are the three most pressing needs for the 16th Judicial Circuit.
Judge David Akemann resigns in December.
Circuit judges oversee their courtrooms, but also shape policies and appoint associate judges. The county has 14 circuit judges and 17 associate judges.
As a recent forum in Elgin organized by the League of Women Voters Elgin Area, candidates weighed in on what they see are the three most pressing needs for the circuit.
"There are a number of pressing needs and they all have to do with funding," said Kliment, an associate judge since 2010 and a former public defender.
Kliment said security is understaffed at the judicial center in St. Charles and the entrance is a "disaster waiting to happen on certain days." He said the building, which opened in 1993, needs to be improved and there needs to be greater access for people who represent themselves in litigation because they can't hire an attorney.
Hartwell, the circuit court clerk, said efficient spending is a top need, along with ensuring the court system is fairly funded and providing more assistance to people who represent themselves in litigation.
"In government, finances are very important. It's how to use the money we have more efficiently," Hartwell said. "It's important to properly fund the courts because that's where justice comes in."
Flood, an associate judge since 2013 and former assistant state's attorney, said judges and attorneys need to be aware and educated on local, affordable services that can help reduce recidivism.
"We now recognize there have to be other services in place to try to stop people from re-entering the court system, and that simply incarcerating them or putting them through a term of prison is not the best way to do that," Flood said. "As a judge, I am not going to sentence someone to something that I believe is cost prohibitive."
She also favors increasing access pro bono services and updating technology to increase communication and courtroom efficiency.
Noland, a former state senator from Elgin, said judges need to work with the county board to get funding for more prosecutors and public defenders, increase spending on probation services to ensure people free on bond come to court, and reform the cash bail system for nonviolent offenders.
"The needs of Kane County are reflective of the needs to the state as a whole," Noland said. "We are incarcerating individuals for nonviolent offenses."
Cowart, who works as an assistant state's attorney for juvenile court, said the "a mindset shift of the court system itself" is needed to ensure people feel seen and heard. Cowart said the circuit should strive for equal justice for all, regardless of a person's financial status, and more evidence-based research should be employed to reduce recidivism.
"Nobody ends up in court because life is good at the moment; something has gone wrong," Cowart said. "People often leave (court) feeling that they've been further harmed by the system instead of supported by it."
Early voting runs through Monday at certain county locations. Visit kaneelections.org.