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Judge leaves case after ties revealed
By Jake Griffin | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 6/25/2008 12:07 AM

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The judge handling the appeal of a Democratic state Senate candidate thrown off the ballot by the DuPage Election Commission has recused himself after questions surfaced about his financial ties to the commission's lawyer.

Election commission attorney Pat Bond donated $6,500 to DuPage Circuit Judge Ken Popejoy's campaign between June 2003 and September 2004. Bond also once served as Popejoy's campaign chairman, according to campaign disclosure documents from the Illinois Board of Elections.

Calls by the Daily Herald to Popejoy and Bond on Friday were not returned, but Monday Popejoy stepped away from the case. He would not discuss his reasons, citing through his secretary judicial canons and ethics that forbid judges from discussing pending cases.

Campaign financing laws pertaining to judges are much different than for other political candidates in the state. According to the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, judges cannot solicit funds for their campaigns, nor are they supposed to know who is making contributions. They employ campaign managers to handle their finances in an effort to retain a level of objectivity.

The embattled candidate, Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park trustee, is trying to unseat state Sen. Carole Pankau of Roselle. The appeal of Cullerton's dismissal from the ballot will be heard as scheduled at 10:30 a.m. July 3, but Judge Paul Fullerton is now presiding, Popejoy's secretary said.

Republicans objected to Cullerton's candidacy because of paperwork issues and the fact that he had pulled a Republican primary ballot in February. The election commission voted 2-1 in May to boot Cullerton from the ballot.

Bond, who donated nearly $1,000 to Pankau's campaign between 2002 and 2007, advised the commission on pertinent case law during the decision-making process.

Lawyers for the Republican objectors have already moved the appeal out of Judge Bonnie Wheaton's courtroom at a hearing earlier this month. Cullerton's attorney, Mike Dorf, said that was because Wheaton had ruled against them on a similar matter a few years ago. Each side is allowed one judicial objection, he said.

Attorney Mike Lavelle runs a firm in Chicago specializing in election law. He doesn't believe there's anything untoward about the contributions.

"It is not uncommon, given the small election bar, for election lawyers to come into contact with candidates they have represented in the past," he said. "It's just the nature of the beast. And in this case, the amount of time that has intervened is not necessarily a basis to recuse someone."

But officials from the DuPage chapter of the Illinois Ballot Integrity Project, a group that has been feuding with the election commission for years, questioned Bond's relationships.

"The one distinction which separates Bond from other attorneys making contributions is that he is being well-compensated by taxpayers to represent the alleged bipartisan election commission," said the group's co-chairwoman Jean Kaczmarek. "While I realize that all attorneys vote, an attorney in that position should at least give the appearance of non-partisanship. Bond doesn't even try."