In just over a month, on March 17th, Champaign County and the rest of the State of Illinois will have their primary election. Though the Presidential election is obviously important to focus on, it’s equally pressing to consider our options at the local level. If you’re not one that pays attention to politics in general, you probably have a tendency to overlook these races until there are a bunch of names on a ballot, some of which you might recognize from yard signs. I was once this person. We don’t want you to be that person, so we’ll spend the next couple of weeks highlighting a few of the races that you should be paying attention to. Smile Politely does not do endorsements, so it’s up to you to sort out who you feel should represent you in these county level offices. First up, the race for circuit judge in Champaign County. 

Some background

As you may or may not remember, there were two of these positions up for grabs in the 2018 election: Ramona Sullivan (D) was vying against Republican Roger Webber (R) and Chad Beckett (D) was vying against Randy Rosenbaum (R). In both races, the Republican candidates were previously appointed to the judgeships after the seats were left vacant during the previous judges’ terms, then had to run to retain those seats.

We saw a giant blue wave in the 2018 election, with Dems taking over positions long held by Republicans. Sullivan and Beckett had a similar overwhelming vote counts in Champaign County, but they were running for circuitwide seats that included voters from DeWitt, Douglas, Moultrie, Macon and Piatt counties, and each lost their race to the Republican candidate.

This time around, there is a resident judge seat open that is elected by Champaign County voters alone. Judge Michael Jones retired and appointed Jason Bohm (R) to fill the seat. Obviously, Democrats wanting a shot at the bench saw this as a great opportunity. There are four candidates running in the primary to be the Democratic nominee. Bohm decided he’d rather try for the circuitwide spot that’s also up for grabs.

Once a judge is a elected, they are on for a six-year term. If they want to continue on the bench, then they have to submit their names for the ballot so that they can be voted on for retention in that position, which they do unopposed. If they receive over 60% of the vote, then they can be retained. The only time there is a the possibility of a contested election is if they vacate their seat. 

The candidates

The four candidates answered questions during a League of Women Voters Candidate Forum a couple of weeks ago. Here are some tidbits on their background and stances. There is unsurprisingly a lot of overlap in their stances on things: all are concerned about the rise of gun violence in Champaign County and its effects on all involved; all spoke about sentencing solutions that go beyond jail time. A lot of this decision comes down to the type of experience and temperament what you think makes a person uniquely qualified for the job.

Troy Lozar is the Chief Criminal Deputy in the Champaign County State’s Attorney’s Office, and was previously in private practice in Champaign. He stressed his experience trying cases in front of Champaign County juries, and spoke about expanding accessibility to justice and his intention to be a judge that really hears the needs of the people in front of him.

David Moore spoke a lot about his extensive experience in all aspects of the law, both criminal and civil, and stated he was “a good lawyer and a good person.” Moore feels his long tenure of practicing law in Champaign County (36 years) will help him bring local perspective to the bench.

Ramona Sullivan is an attorney in the public defender’s office and former legal aid attorney. She is running on a similar platform as in the previous election, that she wants to see more people on the bench like her, as a woman and former single parent. She’s spoken about balancing the bench (it is currently mostly male- except for one judge, all white, and all Republican), and about being consistently rated well-qualified when previously considered for circuit judge appointments.

Ruth Wyman is a private family law attorney who has also been very involved in the community, serving on the Urbana City Council and volunteering her time with the Tenant Union and ACLU. She emphasized her fluency in Spanish, experience offering legal help to immigrants, and pro bono work as something that makes her stand out.

The stakes

Even if you never find yourself standing in front of one of the circuit judges, their decisions affect the community as a whole. They are making daily decisions about who receives jail time and how much, the fate of children and their parents, the issuing of protective orders, and so much more. These decisions have ripple effects into the whole of our community. Circuit judges are also making decisions that go beyond individuals and their families. Case in point: the recent decision by Judge Randy Rosenbaum that awarded a property tax exemption to The Carle Foundation for the years 2005-2011. They were awarded more than $6 million to be paid by local taxing districts: the City of Urbana, Cunningham Township, Champaign County, Champaign County Forest Preserve District, Parkland College, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, and Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, all entities that provide services to you and me and the rest of the community.

Also, as stated before, it’s important to take a look at the current bench and consider the representation: of the 14 circuit judges all are white, all are Republican, and all are men except one. 

You can find more information about each of the candidates at votechampaign.org, and at each of their campaign websites, linked above. If you'd like to watch the League of Women Voters forum in its entirety, you can do that here. If you are ready to cast your ballot now, you can find early voting information here

Top Image: Four judge candidates are seated at the front of city council chambers, each behind a thin black microphone. There are two women and two men. They are flanked by the American flag and Illinois flag. Photo by Ben Theobald.