Ortega named public defender for Coles County
CHARLESTON — A 10-year employee of the Champaign County public defender's office has been chosen as the next public defender for Coles County.
Anthony Ortega, 40, of Champaign learned last week that he had been selected by the judges of the Fifth Judicial Circuit, which includes Coles, Clark, Cumberland, Vermilion, and Edgar counties.
Coles County Presiding Judge Jim Glenn said Ortega was chosen from a field of 12 applicants by 11 of the circuit judges in the circuit. One of the judges, Matt Sullivan of Paris, abstained from the vote because he is Ortega's brother-in-law.
Ortega is married to Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation attorney Ramona Sullivan. They live in Champaign. Ortega said they plan to keep their home in Champaign County, but he will be renting a place in Charleston as well.
"We were very impressed with him when he interviewed," said Glenn.
Ortega is a 1999 graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law and has been a criminal defense attorney almost his entire career.
Prior to beginning work as a Champaign County assistant public defender in December 2003, Ortega was an assistant public defender in McLean County for two years. And for two years before that, he worked with the Legal Services Corp. in Iowa.
He's handled felony cases as a Champaign County assistant public defender.
Glenn said Ortega will earn approximately $149,850 a year in his new post, which involves representing mostly felony clients. He'll be the sole full-time attorney in the public defender's office. Glenn said Ortega will have a secretary and an investigator. The county has contracts with four other private attorneys to represent indigent clients, Glenn said.
He replaces Lonnie Lutz, who announced in April that he planned to retire on June 30. Lutz has been public defender for 33 years but for much of his career was a part-time public defender with a private practice on the side. He became the full-time public defender for Coles County in 2006, Glenn said.
Glenn said although Sullivan comes to Coles County two days a week to hear juvenile cases, it would be rare for him to have any cases involving Ortega.
"The public defender handles felonies and once in a while a misdemeanor or juvenile," said Glenn, who said he was confident Sullivan would recuse himself from any case where Ortega might be required to appear in front of him.
Ortega plans to start his new job July 1 and said he would likely remain in the Champaign County public defender's office until the end of June.