Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2013, 11:19 pm

Illinois Bar Association president visits Moline

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By Eric Timmons etimmons@qconline.com

The Illinois State Bar Association wants judges to be disqualified from cases in which political contributions could lead to a perception of bias.

John Thies, bar association president, said the code of judicial conduct in Illinois does not contain specific references to political contributions.

In December, the association's general assembly approved changing the code of conduct so judges would be disqualified if there was a "probability of bias" based on cash or in-kind contributions to a judge's political campaign.

Mr. Thies said the change is now being considered by the Illinois Supreme Court.

In a meeting with the editorial board of The Dispatch/Rock Island Argus Thursday, Mr. Thies said the change would begin to address the influence of money and politics on the judicial system.

The bar association supports merit selection of judges, which would mean that a non-partisan panel would pick qualified candidates to become judges, rather than the electorate. The governor or state legislature would then pick judges from a list of candidates.

The 32,000 member state bar association provides professional services to Illinois lawyers. Mr. Thies, a lawyer in Champaign-Urbana, has been president of the association since last June.

Since becoming president, Mr. Thies said he has appointed a committee to investigate the impact of law school debt on the delivery of legal services.

Mr. Thies said law school debt now averages more than $100,000 and can make it difficult for small law firms in rural areas to attract lawyers. The special committee will publish its report and recommendations later this year.

Mr. Thies also said he hoped to use his presidency to protect funding for the state's court system.

About 0.6 percent of the state's budget goes to the courts, with counties providing most of the funding, which he said has resulted in a disparity in services between poor and wealthier counties.

Mr. Thies has appointed a committee to identifythreats to "fair and impartial courts," and the members have surveyed chief judgesaround the state and will publicize their findings.