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Matchett v. Chicago Bar Ass'n

OPINION FILED MAY 17, 1984.

HUGH M. MATCHETT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

CHICAGO BAR ASSOCIATION ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Joseph M. Wosik, Judge, presiding.

PRESIDING JUSTICE LINN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied August 9, 1984.

Plaintiff, Hugh M. Matchett, a Chicago attorney, brought this libel action in the circuit court of Cook County seeking a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and damages against defendants, the Chicago Bar Association (CBA), the Chicago Tribune Company, and Field Enterprises, Inc., publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times. The motions to dismiss filed by all three defendants were granted, and plaintiff's subsequent motions to vacate the dismissal and to amend his complaint were denied.

On appeal, plaintiff charges that the circuit court erred (1) in refusing his requests for both injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment, (2) in dismissing his complaint for failure to state a cause of action for libel, and (3) in denying his motion for leave to amend his complaint.

We affirm the decision of the trial court.

FACTS

Hugh M. Matchett was a candidate for nomination by the Republican party for the office of justice of the appellate court in the March 16, 1982, primary election. The CBA, "[r]ecognizing the responsibility of the legal profession to ensure that qualified judges are elected" (Anagnost v. Chicago Bar Association (1980), 83 Ill. App.3d 466, 468, 404 N.E.2d 326, 327) and claiming a legitimate interest in the qualifications of candidates for judicial office, invited each candidate for judicial office voluntarily to submit to its evaluation procedures, the results of which would form the basis of a published listing indicating whether a particular candidate had been rated as "Highly Recommended," "Recommended," or "Not Recommended." Although the candidates were informed of the criteria used by the CBA, the public was not, and the candidates were not informed of the results of the evaluation on each of the criteria.

In December 1981, Matchett submitted the required information to the CBA's committee on evaluation of candidates, and an investigator reviewed his completed questionnaire, interviewed listed references and other attorneys, and considered other available products of his work. The committee compiled a detailed written report that was submitted to a hearing panel prior to the panel's interview of Matchett. At the conclusion of the interview, the panel voted on its evaluation; and on January 13, 1982, the results were sent to Matchett in a letter from the president of the CBA that stated, inter alia, "I regret to advise you that the Committee has concluded that you do not meet its established criteria for this important office, by reason of age, and therefore found you `Not Recommended.'"

As Matchett was aware, the CBA has a policy of not recommending candidates for the office of judge of the appellate court if they are over 65 years of age and are seeking judicial office for the first time, unless they exhibit exceptional qualifications, the reason being they will not be able to complete one full 10-year term before the mandatory retirement age of 75. Matchett was 69 at the time of the CBA evaluation.

On February 22, 1982, the CBA issued a press release, explaining the process of evaluation and giving the final rating for each candidate. Matchett was rated "Not Recommended." The Chicago Tribune reported the CBA's action on the following day, February 23; the Chicago Sun-Times carried the story on February 24.

The Tribune article reported both the CBA's unelaborated rating and Matchett's comment:

"The bar association found only one judicial candidate unqualified: Hugh M. Matchett, a Chicago attorney running for the Republican nomination to the Illinois Appellate Court.

The association, in its press release, gave no reason for the rating. Matchett said it told him he received a `not recommended' ...


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