TUSCOLA — While many aspiring retirees fantasize about umbrella drinks at poolside, golfing or traveling the world, Mike Carroll is thinking a bit deeper and is happy to do it in his Tuscola home.
The 66-year-old Douglas County judge plans to retire in three months and turn his attention more fully to a book he has been writing for almost a decade.
"It's a theodicy, a philosophical defense of God being all powerful and all good even though there is evil in the world," said Carroll, who's as serious as a judge about his writing. "It's a paradox that no one has successfully resolved intellectually."
"It's called Christianty's biggest problem. If God does exist, why worship him with all this evil in the world? I love this stuff," he said, adding he's almost done with the tome.
A Tuscola native — "I'm a Jarman baby" — Carroll at one time thought he wanted to be a physician. He found, however, that basketball and golf at Millikin University in Decatur and later at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston made that pursuit difficult.
"I have no idea how I ended up being a lawyer. I think I saw Gregory Peck in 'To Kill a Mockingbird,'" he said, describing the actor's role as Atticus Finch in the 1962 film based on Harper Lee's novel about a respected lawyer in a racially segregated Alabama town who defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.
Carroll got his law degree at the University of Illinois in 1974, taking a break from his legal studies mid-stream to join the U.S. Army.
After getting his degree, he went to work for the Army Corps of Engineers' Construction Engineering Research Lab in Champaign for two years helping "design models for how to get things done faster."
When some Douglas County citizens approached him about running for state's attorney in 1976, he declined. However, he didn't decline the post in the wake of a successful write-in campaign.
From 1976 to 1982, Carroll held the part-time prosecutor's job, which paid about $25,500 a year, maintaining almost full-time hours. In 1982, he joined the Tuscola firm of Lemna, Moore and Carroll. The firm had as clients several units of government, including the city of Tuscola, which Carroll represented.
He stayed with that firm until 2006, when he was elected a resident circuit judge in the 6th Judicial Circuit. That means he had to run only in Douglas County and not Champaign, DeWitt, Macon, Moultrie or Piatt counties. In 2012, voters retained him.
Carroll said his last day on the bench will be Jan. 1.
Frank Lincoln of Tuscola, who retired from the Douglas County bench in December 2006, will return to his former post to fill in until Carroll's replacement is elected. An order from the Illinois Supreme Court entered Friday said Lincoln, a resident circuit judge for 22 years, is being recalled Jan. 2 and will serve through Dec. 1, 2014.
The Jan. 1 date "puts me into my 40th year of practicing law by one day," said Carroll, who has other interests besides the theodicy he's writing.
"I like to antique. I collect American art pottery, blue stoneware from the New England area. I love all the arts. I like painting, drawing and photography. I'm going to get busy. I have a lot of house projects. I'm an outdoor person. I plan to work on my health and fitness, go to the gym," he said.
He's also writing a second book, which he calls semi-fiction, semi-humorous about the history of Tuscola.
Carroll has been married for 21 years to Rebecca Cook, a professor of special education at Eastern Illinois University, who is apparently happy to let him be a stay-at-home husband.
"She loves her work," he said, explaining that they took two weeks off recently to see how retirement might feel. He was smitten. She was not.
"She said, 'I don't know about you, but I'm not quitting,'" Carroll said of his wife, who takes textbooks with her to read on vacation.
Already, two Republicans have confirmed that they would like to take Carroll's empty seat on the bench.
Lorna Geiler, 51, of Tuscola confirmed that she will run in the March Republican primary for the post.
An attorney since November 1986, Geiler has been with the Champaign law firm of Meyer Capel since 1988. She has a litigation practice with a concentration in employment and labor.
Richard Broch, 57, of Tuscola, an associate judge in the 6th Circuit since January, also declared his candidacy as a Republican.
A lawyer for 31 years, Broch was Douglas County state's attorney from 1988 to 1996. When he wasn't in that post, he was in private practice in Tuscola.
Assigned to hear cases in the smaller four counties of the circuit, Broch spends three days a week on the bench in Piatt County hearing primarily criminal cases because Circuit Judge Hugh Finson has a conflict of interest since his niece, Dana Rhoades, is the Piatt County state's attorney.