A new judicial database website is putting a magnifying glass on Illinois’ judges.
Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law created the website to provide a directory and profile of every elected and appointed judge in Illinois. The website includes basic information such as whether they were appointed or elected, as well as their party affiliation if it is listed. Senior lecturer Leigh Bienen said she hopes the site brings a new level of transparency to a branch of government not known for its transparency.
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"Their salaries are paid by the state of Illinois," she said. "We should be able to find out basic information about them."
Bienen started the website because she couldn't easily find information on judges involved in wrongful convictions. "What about these cases where there seemed to be so many people wrongfully convicted? What were those judges doing? Who were they?" she asked.
The site lists simple facts such as a judges' sex and school from which they received their law degree, but it also lists where they worked prior to holding the judicial office. The database used codes to indicate if the judge was a public defender, private practice lawyer, or if they worked as a prosecutor.
Bienen said those categories could lend themselves to controversy, but the public deserves to be informed about their elected or appointed official's background. "A particular judge who had previously been a state's attorney. Is that damning? No, but it is still partisan," she said.
The site only profiles judges in 2015, but Bienen said they may update it. She said she hopes that reporters and the public will educate themselves on who they are paying to interpret their state's laws.
Long-time Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, in the site's introduction page, called it a "comprehensive directory and profile of every elected and appointed jurist representing the Circuit Courts, the Appellate Division and the State Supreme Court of Illinois."