MONTICELLO — William Hugh Finson did not have to leave Monticello to fulfill his dreams.
The 64-year old attorney and lifelong local resident was named Sixth Judicial Court judge last month.
The appointment, made by the Illinois Supreme Court, is effective Sept. 4 and will run through the end of the current term, until Dec. 1, 2014. He will likely hear criminal cases in Moultrie, DeWitt and Douglas counties — but not in Piatt County. He has a conflict of interest in presiding over criminal cases in his home county because his niece is State's Attorney Dana Rhoades. That's too close a relation, according to the Judicial Code of Conduct.
He will be free, however, to hear civil cases in Piatt County.
Finson, who is known locally by his middle name of Hugh, has lived in Monticello his entire life except when away at college. A 1965 graduate of Monticello High School, he has been able to serve in various capacities in Piatt County, from state's attorney from 1975 to 1988 to public defender from 1988 to 1996.
He feels his experience on both sides of the courtroom aisle will serve him well as judge.
"What they (Supreme Court) may have been looking for — and I'm just speculating when I say this — is someone who has experience and won't have to go through too long a learning process," said Finson, who will hit 40 years as an attorney this November.
He did not necessarily expect the appointment. On three other occasions, Finson was edged out by other candidates for associate judge positions, so he did not get his hopes up. But in this go-around, he was chosen from a list of nine who applied for an opening in the Sixth Judicial Circuit, which encompasses six counties.
When he got the call, Finson admitted to being "very happy" and "very humbled."
Now he gears up to follow Judge John P. Shonkwiler, a storied judge who went on medical leave this spring and died on July 18. Shonkwiler had been on the bench since 1972, the same year Finson started his legal career.
Finson said he already imagines being compared with Shonkwiler.
"I can hear it now: 'Judge Shonkwiler wouldn't have done it that way,'" Finson said, chuckling.
But he vows to be his own man on the bench and is looking forward to the challenge.
"Us lawyers in court have to advocate for our client, and sometimes that's real easy. Sometimes it's difficult, because a client may not come across that well. Doing that is a challenge.
"But sitting on the bench, what a judge does is sift the wheat from the chaff, and that has always seemed very interesting to me to be able to do that," he said.
Finson can be seen not only in a courtroom, but in the Bement bandstand as part of the town's community band. A tuba player since grade school, he picked it up again several years ago to help in the band, and says it is one of his favorite hobbies.
He doesn't claim to be a virtuoso, instead saying that tuba players get jobs when they "have their own horn. You have to take out a second mortgage to buy a new one."
Finson is also a member of Monticello Rotary, the Piatt County Historical and Genealogical Society, and the Piatt County Museum.
He is married and has four children.
Finson has practiced in Monticello since earning his law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law in 1972. He started his legal career in the Arnold Sievers Law Office in Monticello, then was a partner in the Eaton and Finson Law Office before becoming the sole partner in Finson Law Office in 1975.
"This sounds awfully small town, but I never really wanted to live anywhere else. It's a nice little town; it's quiet, law-abiding — for the most part — and has good schools," he added.