Voters pick Fitton for Ford circuit judge
PAXTON — Ford County State’s Attorney Matt Fitton will be stepping out of the prosecutor’s chair and onto the bench at some point in the next year.
But after narrowly defeating his Republican opponent — attorney Ellen Lee of Paxton — for the Ford County circuit judge’s post in Tuesday’s primary election by a 1,546 to 1,281 margin, Fitton still does not know when his current job ends and his new one begins.
Fitton could take office as judge as late as Dec. 1, following the November general election. However, it also remains possible that the Illinois Supreme Court could appoint Fitton, who is unchallenged in November, to the vacant seat earlier.
Fitton said Tuesday night that he has not been notified which way it will go.
“I would like to (become judge) early, but I’ve been an attorney long enough and I farmed before that, and I’m the youngest of eight kids, so I can be patient,” Fitton said. “I’ll do what I have to. But I’m excited, and I’m looking forward to it and I’ll follow in step.”
The 52-year-old Fitton, a Paxton resident, will replace Circuit Judge Steve Pacey, who resigned from the bench, effective Dec. 31, 2013, after a 17-year career as judge.
Pacey called Fitton late Tuesday night to congratulate him on the victory.
“Basically, he was happy it turned out this way,” said Fitton, who was in the courtroom with Pacey almost every day during his eight years as Ford County’s prosecutor.
Fitton’s win means the remaining two years of his current four-year term as state’s attorney will need to be filled by appointment, according to the Illinois Counties Code.
Prior to being elected to his first term as Ford County state’s attorney in 2008, Fitton was a senior public defender in the Champaign County public defender’s office from 2003-08 and was previously an assistant state’s attorney in DeWitt County from 2000-03. Fitton is a graduate of Eastern Illinois University and received his law degree from the Saint Louis University School of Law.
Fitton has lived in Paxton for more than 20 years and is a lifelong resident of central Illinois. His wife, Cara, is a special education teacher for the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school district. They have three sons.
Fitton credited his opponent with running “a very good campaign” that showed she “put all her effort into it.”
Lee has been practicing law for more than 30 years, including for the last 19 in civil practice at Eckhardt & Lee in Gibson City.
Lee, wife of former Ford County State’s Attorney Tony Lee, was an assistant state’s attorney in DuPage County from 1982-85.
“I feel we did the best we could do,” Lee said Tuesday night. “We visited every voter in the county. Hat’s off to Matt. I hope he makes a good judge.”
“I’m just very grateful to the voters of Ford County,” Fitton said. “I’ll do everything I can to do a well as judge as I have as state’s attorney, and I will work to keep the people’s trust.”