MONTICELLO — Judge John P. Shonkwiler, longtime chief judge for the Sixth Judicial Circuit, is retiring later this year.
Circuit Judge Dan L. Flannell said on Monday evening that Shonkwiler entered an administrative order Friday afternoon to take an extended sick leave, effective immediately, due to surgery he received on Monday morning.
Flannell said that Shonkwiler, 79, also sent a letter to the Piatt County Bar Association announcing he was retiring as judge, effective at the end of business on July 31.
The Sixth Judicial Circuit encompasses Champaign, DeWitt, Douglas, Macon, Moultrie and Piatt counties.
Flannell said a chief judge typically retires by sending a letter of retirement to the Illinois Supreme Court justice responsible for that judicial circuit, in this case Justice Rita Garman. Garman, in turn, would be responsible for formally announcing the retirement.
Joseph R. Tybor, press secretary for the Illinois Supreme Court, did not return calls on Monday night.
Flannell said that Shonkwiler appointed him as acting chief judge for the Sixth Judicial Circuit and presiding judge for Piatt County during the extended sick leave.
Flannell said that he and Associate Judge Chris E. Freese would be handling court cases in Piatt County.
"Judge Shonkwiler told me it is his intention to return to the bench at least part-time in 30 days," Flannell told The News-Gazette.
Flannell praised Shonkwiler for the guidance he has provided to all the judges in the Sixth Judicial Circuit.
"He has been a mentor to many of us," Flannell said. "We are hopeful he will be back as soon as his health allows."
According to Flannell, once Shonkwiler's vacancy becomes official, the 14 circuit judges of the Sixth Judicial Circuit would get together and vote to select one of their number as the permanent chief judge.
Shonkwiler has been chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit since 1994.
A native of Monticello, he graduated from Monticello in 1951 and received a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois in 1955.
He served in the Navy and then worked for a short time before entering law school at Northwestern University.
After receiving his law degree in 1962, he returned to Monticello to practice law with his father, Robert Shonkwiler.
John Shonkwiler applied to become a magistrate in 1965 and was made an associate judge seven years later.
He was elected to the resident circuit judgeship in Piatt County in 1974.