THE BLOG

Lake County Judicial Race Heats Up

10/27/2010 03:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

North of the city of Chicago, in Lake County, Illinois, is a local race in the 4th judicial sub-circuit of the court system located in Waukegan, Illinois, to be decided November 2. This sub-circuit includes the tony suburbs of Highland Park, Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, Deerfield, Mettawa, Green Oaks, Lincolnshire and parts of Libertyville. The race for this full circuit court judge position is between sitting Associate Judge Wallace (Wally) B. Dunn and Mr. Mark Levitt. Dunn's term as an associate judge ends mid next year, so this election means much to him. Both are long time residents of the area, with Levitt having grown up there and who presently sits on the local school board in one of the communities. Both are Jewish in case anyone is interested, though north of Chicago in Lake County, such a match-up is quite unusual.

The race has become heated, with many folks in the region taking sides and participating as campaign supporters -- after all, it is the first time there has been a race solely for this part of Lake County, Illinois, typically an oasis of Democrats in a county that is a bastion for Republicans. What is also taking place is Democrats crossing over to vote for a Republican, and at least one of the candidates, Dunn, using the TV airwaves to boost his chances. Both have spent money to be sure, including for classy websites, media purchases, and with Levitt, t-shirts and kids parading in local events. Supporters for Levitt include children, no doubt friends of his own family, and a guest essay done by his 15-year-old daughter in the local newspaper last week.

Dunn has been a sitting judge for 24 years, having practiced law before that in representing many of the communities as a city attorney or prosecutor. Levitt has been a public defender in Cook County (Chicago) for 20 years; he even had his first courtroom appearance before Dunn. Levitt has no judicial experience. Dunn outscores his opponent in every category ranked recently by the Illinois State Bar Association, including by 11 points on legal ability, and has been reappointed to the bench as an associate judge six times by Lake County's circuit judges. He has handled 1,500 bench trials without reversal, and none of his 500 civil jury trials have been reversed by a higher court either. His reversal rate is less than 1% in 24 years. Dunn has as well decided landmark cases that the state's judges follow. Both he and Levitt come endorsed by the state and county bar associations (Dunn also picked up the endorsement of Chicago's major newspaper, the Tribune).

Both candidates had to answer a Tribune questionnaire. Their answers are enlightening. For example, Levitt likes Batman comic books; Dunn is a bicyclist who uses this activity to reduce the stresses and strains of life, particularly as a sitting judge. Their complete answers can be found, respectively, at: http://elections.chicagotribune.com/editorial/wallace-dunn; and, http://elections.chicagotribune.com/editorial/mark-levitt.

Levitt and his camp tout his good guy image and say his experience as a lawyer in another county is enough to take on the most serious and complex civil and criminal cases expected of a full circuit court judge. Dunn has already received high marks for doing this already for, again, over two decades. A check of Levitt's background using the various databases within Westlaw, a prestigious legal search engine, fails to reveal this experience, with him being identified as one of three public defenders handling an appeal whose decision went against him. No doubt he has had many other cases as a public defender for those charged with criminal activity. Dunn's name and involvement in legal cases crop up many, many times on Westlaw.

Come election day, this race -- found on the back of the ballot at the bottom -- comes down to what appears to be overwhelming experience versus wanting a change of scenery for the sake of change. But, should this really be the choice at all when voters know that they are asked to decide on someone who may preside over life or death criminal cases, or a personal injury matter with millions of dollars potentially hanging in the balance? Or, should it be, as it must, like choosing a fine wine -- one that takes years to become robust, mature and full of flavor? After all, how many of us really want to purchase a bottle of the bubbly whose grapes were harvested just months earlier? Let's hope voters in this generally affluent area of Chicagoland know the difference.