On Wednesday, September 13, 2023, the Cook County Record reported that Illinois Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Rochford, one of the newest Democratic appointees, is under scrutiny for her recent decision to serve as a keynote speaker at a Lake County Democratic Party fundraiser. This move has raised questions about her adherence to judicial ethics, as state rules prohibit judges from participating in such partisan events. Critics, including state Republican Party officials, are planning to file complaints with the Judicial Inquiry Board, the body responsible for investigating judicial misconduct cases.
On September 9, Justice Rochford addressed a Lake County Democratic Party fundraiser organized by the Lake County Women’s Political Action Committee. The group’s mission is to support female Democratic candidates in Lake County and beyond. The event was promoted using Rochford’s expected appearance to boost ticket sales. Rochford’s decision to speak at the fundraiser has ignited a debate over the adherence to judicial ethics. The Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct expressly forbids judges from publicly endorsing or making speeches on behalf of political candidates or organizations, except in specific contexts related to judicial election campaigns. The Code aims to maintain public confidence in the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.
In response to the criticism, Justice Rochford defended her speaking engagement, asserting that she receives requests from various groups and believes it’s essential for judges to engage with the public and educate them about the judicial branch. She emphasized that her speech focused on non-partisan aspects of the Illinois Supreme Court and the unique lodging arrangement during court terms, rather than advancing any political agenda.
The Illinois Republican Party has announced its intent to file complaints against Justice Rochford with the Judicial Inquiry Board. While some legal experts argue that the breach may not warrant severe sanctions like suspension or removal, a public reprimand is seen as a possible outcome.
Apart from this recent incident, Justice Rochford has been involved in other contentious cases. She has declined to recuse herself from politically charged cases, including those involving laws supported by Governor JB Pritzker, who made a substantial campaign donation. Additionally, Rochford was a key figure in upholding Illinois’ ban on so-called “assault weapons,” despite receiving significant support from gun control advocacy groups.
Justice Elizabeth Rochford’s decision to speak at a Democratic Party fundraiser has ignited a debate about judicial ethics and impartiality. Critics argue that her participation in the partisan event undermines public trust in the judiciary. As the controversy unfolds, it remains to be seen how the Judicial Inquiry Board will address the matter and what, if any, repercussions Justice Rochford may face for her actions.
Source: Cook County Record