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Judge Heidi Ladd is a household name to countless residents of Champaign County, but after she hangs up her robe for the final time Wednesday, she wants just to be known as Heidi.

Reflecting on her nearly 21 years as a judge, she said, “I am Heidi Ladd. I have had the honor of serving as Judge Ladd, but that was a privilege, not a definition. The job is important; I am not.”

While many, including myself, would strongly disagree with her latter sentiment, Judge Ladd’s words speak volumes to her humility and profound devotion to public service.

I first came to know Judge Ladd through teacher Marshall Schacht in 2017, when I was a senior at St. Joseph-Ogden High School. She graciously allowed me the opportunity to job-shadow her on multiple occasions.

One was particularly compelling. With the consent of both parties, I witnessed a closed hearing involving a juvenile. What stood out to me was Judge Ladd’s motherly concern for the young man before her. She unwaveringly adhered to the rule of law, yet with compassion and an eye toward rehabilitation, refused to see him as a lost cause.

Throughout her legal profession, Judge Ladd has demonstrated that regard for the law and human dignity are not mutually exclusive.

As an aspiring lawyer and judge, I have had a unique perspective living vicariously through Judge Ladd and her colleagues to whom she introduced me, continuously expanding my knowledge of the law and understanding of the inner workings of the criminal justice system.

These individuals — including Judge Jason Bohm, Judge Brett Olmstead, chief court reporter Melissa Clagg and the woman of the hour herself, Judge Ladd — have not only contributed to who I am today but have become like my second family.

Not all that I have learned from being in Judge Ladd’s presence has per se related to the law. While serving as a judge is arguably the zenith of a lawyer’s career, ego has never been at the forefront in Judge Ladd’s mind.

Whether we were in court or eating lunch together at Silvercreek, she never failed to acknowledge a person’s worth, treating all whom she encountered as her equal, irrespective of title or status.

This hallmark transcends the judge who I have come to know as Heidi. Moreover, it teaches us all a valuable lesson that echoes the Golden Rule: Judge Ladd commands respect but does so only by reciprocating that respect.

We will soon embark on new life journeys: for Judge Ladd, the well-deserved rest and recuperation that comes with retirement; and for myself, law school.

As a rising senior at DePaul University, Judge Ladd’s unceasing guidance and support have allowed me to reach new heights never before imagined. Her mentorship has blossomed into a lifelong friendship.

Whether or not she will admit it, Judge Ladd will be leaving the bench with big shoes for her successor to fill, along with an indelible mark on all whom she took an oath to serve over two decades ago.

It is an honor and a privilege to call Judge Ladd my friend and mentor, and I am eternally grateful for the knowledge and values that she has imparted to me. I will never forget the memories made with Judge Ladd, but I cannot wait to make new ones with Heidi Ladd come Thursday morning and the days that follow.

May retirement treat her well.

James Leichty is a senior at DePaul University, where he majors in political science and minors in classical studies and geography. Raised in St. Joseph and now living in Chicago, he plans to go to law school.