It has been a big year for John Dalton.
In May 2011, Dalton made Kane County history when he was seated as a trustee of Elgin Community College, the first openly gay person in the county to be elected to office. The following month, he accepted the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Award from the Illinois State Bar Association. In January, Elgin awarded Dalton their Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award, for his work against racism.
NOTE: View downloadable election guide charts at the following link. This election chart was updated online on Tuesday March 13 with corrections and updates. www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/WCT_2012_primarychartsforweb.pdf .
Riding high on such successes, Dalton has thrown his name into the race for Kane County Circuit Court Judge in the 2nd Subcircuit. Sitting on the bench has been a longtime dream for Dalton, who unsuccessfully ran for judge in Kane County two years ago.
Dalton currently runs his own law practice in Elgin. Most of his 25 years in law have been spent as a trial attorney.
Dalton took some time out for Windy City Time and talked about his history of activism and what flaws he sees with the current judicial system.
Windy City Times: Why is judge the next step for you?
John Dalton: Well, I ran for judge in the 2010 because I really felt like I was on the right path. I was unsuccessful, but having come to the conclusion that that was the right thing for me to do at this stage of my career, another opportunity presented itself to run this time in the subcircuit race, which I have a better chance of winning because the subcircuit is either evenly balanced or may arguably favor Democrats, whereas the county as a whole strongly favors Republican candidates. Having the opportunity to achieve this dream a second time, I seized it.
WCT: What do you see as areas for improvement in the judiciary?
John Dalton: First of all, I think the process of electing judges could be improved. Today, we have partisan political contests, and I wish the process was not partisan. It makes the focus "what are your qualifications for that position?" and not "what party are you from?"
I also think the influence of campaign contributions, in politics as a whole and in judicial races in particular is corrosive. Today, many judicial candidates, virtually all, primarily fund their campaigns through donations from attorneys. And when those same attorneys appear before those judges after the election in court, everybody pretends like that's not a conflict of interest. As a result, I've committed, both in 2010 and in this election, not to accept any campaign contributions from attorneys.
WCT: Do you support merit-based appointments over electing judges?
John Dalton: I don't. I have an open mind with respect to merit-based selection of judges but so far, no one has devised a method of doing that that's an improvement over elections. I would just change the election to one where it is a non-partisan election.
WCT: What do you see as deprivations under law for LGBT people?
John Dalton: I think that very few would quarrel with the assertion that right this minute, LGBT folks do not receive equal rights under the law. Illinois recognizes LGBT marriages performed elsewhere as civil unions and not as marriages, and there is no justification for that distinction.
WCT: Are you active in the LGBT community?
John Dalton: I have for the last 20 years of so worked, whenever the opportunity has presented itself, for equal rights. Some of the things I've done more recently include working with the School District U-46, which is the second largest school district in the state. We made great strides towards making that district a more welcoming, a more nurturing environment for LGBT students.
WCT: Tell me about your work around racial justice in Elgin.
John Dalton: It seems to me that if you're going to take the position that equality is for everyone and that civil rights should be something that every single person enjoys, then that has to mean civil rights for LGBT, it has to mean civil rights for racial groups. It has to be civil rights for all.
So when I observed, for example, a groundswell with a certain aspect of our community of anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant prejudice, that was really overt racism. … When I saw people making speeches and trying to organize it into a group and trying to pressure our city council to take action against Hispanics and immigrants, I could not stand silently by and let that happen. I think it's the responsibility of every citizen when they see something like that developing in their community to step up, speak up and to call those people out and label it for it is. It's racism. It's wrong. So, I founded, along with some like minded citizens here in Elgin, a group called Speak Out Against Prejudice, and we worked to oppose that racism.
WCT: What do you want people to know about you in this race?
John Dalton: I think the first thing I want people to think is that I'm well educated. I have a deep experience in the law and how courtrooms function, and so that I'm competent to be a judge. I'm well-prepared for the challenges the bench would present. And the second thing I want them to know is the nature of my character and the kind of judgment I would bring to bear as a judge.
WCT: Can you imagine instances where you will have to rule against your personal beliefs?
John Dalton: There are, no doubt, times when the law and my personal opinion would not mesh. The law is a living, breathing thing; it changes over time. Sometimes, it's one step forward, two steps back. The trajectory is in the right direction, but at any given moment that law may not match what I would like it to be. A judge's duty, without question, without hesitation is to follow the law.
John Dalton's campaign website is www.johndaltonforjudge.com .