DANVILLE — Rita Garman has been working the phones for the last couple of weeks talking to circuit judges who might want a promotion.
The Illinois Supreme Court justice, whose home office is in Danville, needs to fill two vacancies on the 4th District Appellate Court. She hopes to have people selected and ready to work in January.
"I would say 10 or 12 have talked to me or are talking to me. It's very encouraging. Most say, yes, they would be interested. A couple have said 'I like what I'm doing and wouldn't like the isolation of the appellate court,'" Garman told The News-Gazette.
Her plan is to appoint someone to fill the vacancy created by the Oct. 30 death of Justice John McCullough, 81, of Lincoln. Whoever takes that position will have to run for election in 2014 in the 30 counties of the district, which spans Illinois' mid-section.
Whoever is appointed will have a tremendous leg up in the general election by virtue of having almost two years' experience in the office.
The other vacancy is an assigned position. Justice Robert Cook, 69, of Quincy, had retired from the appellate court in 2008 after 17 years of service there but was recalled by the Supreme Court in April 2011 for a term that was scheduled to end Dec. 3. He was filling the vacancy created when Sue Myerscough, 61, of Springfield was named to the federal court.
Temporary assignments, even some that last for years, are common for the appellate court.
Appellate Court Justice Robert Steigmann of Urbana was temporarily assigned to the 4th District from Champaign County for five years beginning in 1989 before legislation created another appellate judgeship for which he had to run for election in 1994.
It's a pretty safe bet that whoever Garman selects is likely to be plucked from the more populous counties, since many of the smaller counties have only one circuit judge.
There's no requirement that she choose a sitting circuit judge for the appointed position but she must choose a circuit judge for the assigned position.
There is no visible difference to the public in whether a judge is assigned or appointed, just to the persons picked and their colleagues from their circuits.
The trial level post of the circuit judge accepting the assignment remains vacant for as long as the judge is assigned to the appellate court. That means his or her fellow judges have to pick up that person's workload. It also means if the appellate court assignment ends, he or she can go back to work as a circuit court judge.
The judge who is appointed to the appellate court could run for election to the appellate court and lose and then not have his or her circuit judgeship anymore, either.
Fourth district appellate court justices hear cases in Springfield but have offices in their home counties. Unlike the Supreme Court, appellate justices have to hear every single appeal, making their workload daunting. The Supreme Court picks the cases it wants to hear.
Garman, who was a trial judge in Vermilion County and an appellate justice before her election to the Supreme Court, said she understands the feelings of those who are happy to stay put as a circuit judge but has no regrets about having left that post for the appellate court.
"It's an opportunity to see the law from a different perspective. I enjoyed every level I was at. I had a very positive experience as a circuit judge and really liked doing the work. I could have done the position at any level I served at indefinitely. I really have enjoyed the work," she said.
The 54 appellate court justices in Illinois currently earn about $198,200 a year.