PAXTON — The two Republican candidates seeking to become Ford County's next circuit judge both believe they possess the knowledge and experience needed to oversee civil and criminal trials.
The two Paxton residents — Ford County State's Attorney Matt Fitton and attorney Ellen Lee — are the only candidates in Tuesday's primary seeking to fill the position vacated Dec. 31 through the resignation of resident Judge Steve Pacey.
The winner of the primary is expected to appear on the November general election ballot and take office Dec. 1, although the state supreme court could appoint the winner of the primary to the vacant seat earlier.
Fitton, 52, has experience as a prosecutor and defense attorney in both criminal and civil law.
"Based on my experience, I believe I have the integrity to be a judge," Fitton said. "As an attorney who has practiced criminal law and been on both sides, both as a prosecutor and doing defense work, I believe I have a good perspective on what the judge should do."
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 to 2008 and was previously an assistant state's attorney in DeWitt County, 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.
Lee, 58, has been practicing law for more than 30 years, including for the last 19 in civil practice at Eckhardt & Lee in Gibson City, mostly as a sole practitioner, concentrating in estate, wills and real estate practice.
"Ford County citizens deserve a judge with significant experience, both from legal and life perspectives," Lee said. "I'll bring that to the bench."
Lee, wife of former Ford County State's Attorney Tony Lee, was an assistant state's attorney in DuPage County from 1982 to 1985. She previously served as city attorney for Gibson City and Gifford and currently serves as village attorney for Roberts, Elliott and Sibley.
Lee, a 1981 graduate of DePaul University Law School, serves as secretary of the board of directors of Gibson Area Hospital & Health Services.
She and her husband have four children.
Tony Lee, who was Ford County state's attorney from 1988-2008, have four children.
"I will bring to the bench a lot of knowledge and experience; I also will bring a perspective as the first woman judge in Ford County, which could be kind of cool," Lee said.
In both DeWitt and Champaign counties, Fitton handled a variety of cases, ranging from misdemeanors and felonies to traffic and juvenile cases, including abuse and neglect. While in DeWitt County, he also dealt with civil matters for the DeWitt County Board.
As Ford County state's attorney, Fitton has handled all criminal cases, including felonies and misdemeanors as well as traffic and juvenile court matters. He also serves as legal counsel for the Ford County Board and Ford County Public Building Commission.