3 candidates vying for circuit judgeship

3 candidates vying for circuit judgeship

URBANA – With no Democrats in the primary, three Republican candidates are trying to fill the seat vacated by Judge John DeLaMar almost two years ago.

The three have tried to stay above controversy or attacks on each other, and all three are experienced, so the main issue, according to the candidates, is which experience is the most important.

Champaign County Associate Judge Heidi Ladd has her experience on the bench and in 17 years as a prosecutor.

Champaign attorney Traci Nally said her experience in two decades as a lawyer, combined with her business skills and public service, make her the best candidate.

Champaign attorney Brian McPheters said he is the best-qualified because of "a good record in law school, invaluable experience in my (appellate) clerkship and long years as an attorney."

He said he alone of the three has military experience, having served, with top-secret clearance, in charge of a nuclear missile unit in Germany during the Cold War, leaving the service as a captain.

In a race that began nearly two years ago, Ladd and Nally have Web sites; McPheters doesn't. All three now have television advertisements, with McPheters trying to catch up on the lawn signs that dot the county landscape.

The Illinois Civil Justice League has endorsed 16 candidates – 10 Democrats and 6 Republicans – in primary election contests for circuit court seats in Illinois, or subcircuit seats in Cook County, including Ladd.

Ladd and McPheters were recommended for judgeship in a poll of local lawyers; Nally missed the cutoff by a slight margin.

Ladd said she didn't want to discuss endorsements or engage in oneupsmanship with the other candidates.

"My experience in the courtroom is what I want to stress," she said.

Ladd has been an associate judge since 1999. Before that, she had 17 years experience in the Champaign County state's attorney's office, serving as lead prosecutor.

She has been appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to teach other judges, and has been an instructor for the University of Illinois College of Law since 1993, as well as a statewide instructor for the Illinois appellate prosecutor's office.

Ladd earned an undergraduate degree with distinction from the UI, then a law degree.

In an Illinois State Bar Association poll, she is the highest-rated associate judge in the county.

McPheters, a Pennsylvania native, earned a degree in chemical engineering and served in the Army in the Vietnam era before entering law school at the University of Illinois, graduating in 1973.

He was the 4th District Appellate Court clerk under Justice James Craven before entering the law firm now called Hatch and McPheters in 1975.

He cites a "very varied civil practice," including working for governmental bodies such as drainage districts in his long career.

He has also served as a hearing officer for the Urbana Human Relations Commission and Universities Civil Service System Merit Board.

Nally said her experience is in several realms.

"I have a great record of leadership, and that's what I want people to remember about me. My leadership in business, in not-for-profit organizations and in my profession has far exceeded that of the other candidates," she said.

She was valedictorian and class president at Champaign Central High School and graduated from the UI in 1976 with a sociology degree. Out of school, she worked as an undercover narcotics agent for the Illinois State Police.

After earning a law degree from the UI in 1982, she joined Meyer, Capel, Hirschfeld, Muncie, Jahn and Aldeen, where she spent a decade, becoming a partner after two years.

She was the general counsel for The News-Gazette for five years, and has spent eight years with Nally Bauer Feinen and Bullock, where she is president of the corporation. She's a co-owner of a title insurance company and markets gourmet doggie biscuits.

In contrast with Ladd, who is wary of joining groups because it could cause the appearance of conflict on the bench, Nally has been involved with several local organizations. She notes that under her leadership, the Eastern Illinois Foodbank was rescued from the brink of financial ruin.

All three candidates expressed skepticism that a "women's vote" would be split by Ladd and Nally to McPheter's advantage.

Circuit judge candidates

Republican race for Champaign County circuit judge

Heidi Ladd

Hometown: rural Homer.

Family: Married to Rick Huls.

Education: Undergraduate degree from University of Illinois 1978; law degree from the UI in 1982.

Experience: Associate judge for five years; 17 years as assistant state's attorney.

Interests: Public speaking, bar associations; tries to avoid being beholden to any organization.

Brian McPheters

Hometown: Titusville, Pa.; has spent 31 years in Champaign.

Family: Married to Michal McPheters; two sons, Kelly, 23, and Tyler, 18.

Education: Undergraduate degree from Grove City (Pa.) College; law degree from UI in 1973.

Experience: 4th District Appellate Court clerk; Hatch and McPheters since 1975. Hearing officer for Urbana Human Relations and Universities Civil Service System Merit Board.

Interests: Member of Kiwanis; hunting and fishing, sailing, tennis; member, Champaign County Mental Health Board.

Traci Nally

Hometown: Champaign.

Family: Married to Bruce Kelso.

Education: Undergraduate degree from University of Illinois 1976; law degree from the UI in 1982.

Experience: Illinois State Police special agent; Meyer Capel Hirschfeld Muncie Jahn and Aldeen, partner; News-Gazette general counsel; Nally Bauer Feinen and Bullock, president of corporation; co-owner of East Central Illinois Title Insurance.

Interests: Member of Executive Club of Champaign County, president of Green Meadows Girl Scout Council; also, Land of Lincoln Legal Foundation, Women's Council of Realtors, University of Illinois Alumni Association, East Central Illinois Estate Planning Council, U.S. Tennis Association.

You can reach Paul Wood at (217) 351-5203 or via e-mail at pwood@news-gazette.com.

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