Jim Dey | Shootout at the Illinois Supreme Court Corral? – Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette

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Anybody paying attention knew the race for an Illinois Supreme Court seat from deep southern Illinois would get nasty.

But whoever thought that a gun-toting, tough-talking Judge Judy would challenge her mangy polecat of an opponent to slap leather?

That’s what’s happening in the 37-county Fifth Judicial Circuit, where Appellate Justice Judy Cates has told her opponent, Justice David Overstreet, that the race isn’t big enough for the two of them.

“I have challenged Overstreet to a shootout, but he refuses to meet me at the gun range or even show that he has an FOID (Firearm Owner’s Identification Card),” Cates said.

The invitation to gun play follows charges last week by Cates’ trial-lawyer supporters that Overstreet is sympathetic to child molesters.

And people thought the Third Circuit free-for-all over Justice Thomas Kilbride’s retention bid was nasty?

Actually, it is nasty. But the Cates-Overstreet competition has morphed into a replay of the epic 2004 Supreme Court contest between Democrat Gordon Maag and Republican Lloyd Karmeier.

Karmeier won that battle, which at the time was the most expensive judicial campaign in American history.

Now that Karmeier is retiring, Cates and Overstreet are replaying the prior unpleasantness.

Judging from the tactics used in prior campaigns, Cates’ recent attacks suggest her campaign managers fear they are trailing and need to score points with attention-getting personal attacks.

The Cates’ campaign foreshadowed the escalation last week when a trial-lawyer-

backed campaign committee ran an online ad in The Southern Illinoisan that chastised Overstreet for releasing a child sex offender so that individual could “sexually assault children again.”

“What kind of judge releases child rapists? … What kind of person votes for a judge like that?” asked the Clean Courts Committee.

The ad refers to a unanimous June 22 decision in which a three-judge appellate panel unanimously overturned the conviction of Jerad W. Peoples because Peoples was improperly tried in absentia.

At the time of the trial, Peoples was hospitalized. The appeals court characterized Marion County Circuit Judge Mark Stedelin’s decision to proceed as a reversible error.

Their decision, written by Justice Milton Wharton, stated “the trial court’s decision to proceed to trial in absentia without conducting an adequate inquiry into evidence that the defendant was hospitalized constituted an abuse of discretion.”

The justices said Peoples’ “hospital medical records support the existence of pre-existing and acute psychiatric diagnoses coupled with acute acetaminophen overdose.”

Peoples “presented sufficient information supporting his claim that his absence was not willful,” Wharton wrote.

Wharton was joined in the decision by Justices John Barberis and Overstreet. They are among Cates’ colleagues in the seven-justice Fifth Circuit.

Criminal defendants can be tried in absentia. But that involves instances where defendants refuse to show up, not when they are physically unable to be present.

No one familiar with the

details will hold it against Overstreet for joining in a decision that is clearly legally correct. Instead, they will blame the

trial judge for making an obvious error.

However, the Cates/Overstreet race is not about law, but about winning an election. Laymen do not understand the ins and outs of the law, but they understand — and do not like — child molesters.

The effort to caricature the 54-year-old Overstreet as sympathetic to child molesters is intended to strike a nerve in casual voters.

While the text of the original advertisement was ferociously aggressive, its online presentation was fairly low-key. But Cates’ supporters must think the ad has political traction because Cates is using the issue to personally attack Overstreet.

“David Overstreet sits silent, hoping the people of Southern Illinois do not demand an explanation for why he agreed to release a child molester who is now walking our streets,” she said.

The 68-year-old Cates, a veteran lawyer and judge, did not address the legal issues in the Peoples’ case or the fact that he joined two other justices in reaching the unanimous decision. Instead, she repeatedly excoriated him for having “released a child molester.”

Hardball tactics in judicial races by trial lawyers are standard procedure.

In 2014, trial lawyers tried to defeat Karmeier’s retention bid for a second term, launching a last-minute negative- advertising blitz designed to deny him the minimum 60 percent support required to win another term.

Karmeier barely survived, receiving slightly more than 60 percent.

While the politics play out, the Peoples case is pending in Marion County. The appellate court sent the case back for retrial, and Peoples has been released on bond.

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October 21, 2020 at 05:14PM

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