By TESA GLASS
MT. VERNON — —
In the race for Jefferson County Resident Judge, Democrat Jo Beth Weber is going head-to-head against Republican Nicole Villani.
“I care about our community,” Weber said. “I want to ensure that every resident is treated fairly and impartially if they or their family have to appear in court for any reason. It should not matter who you are or what neighborhood you live in or who someone knows — everyone should be treated the same.”
Weber has been involved in the community for many years, the founder of Jefferson County Youth Court, former president of the Jefferson County Bar Association, president of the Woman’s Hope Center also known as the Jefferson County Crisis Pregnancy Center, is on the board of trustees for Crossroads Community Hospital, a Sunday school teacher and former small group leader at Central Christian Church, a former coach for numerous YMCA and JCSA sports teams, is secretary for the Mt. Vernon Rams Baseball Booster Club, an active member and volunteer of the Mt. Vernon Rams Gridiron Club and has been a host parent for the Rotary Exchange program.
“With over 20 years experience as an attorney, I am the most experienced candidate for this position, with both prosecution and criminal defense experience,” Weber said. “However, the experience that has best equipped me to be a judge is the over 15 yers that I was a legal advisor for the Appellate Court judges. I reviewed thousands of cases from hundreds of circuit court judges in 37 counties, where I impartially evaluated jury and bench trials — just like a judge. The Appellate Court is in a supervisory role to the circuit court, determines mistakes in the circuit court, and instructs the circuit court on the proper law to be applied. That is what I did for over 15 years.”
Weber said she is the only candidate who has expeirence in all three levels of the court system — circuit court, appellate court and Illinois Superme Court.
“I also have extensive experience in criminal as well as civil cases, including first and second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault and abuse cases, burglaries, drug offenses, personal injury, medical malpractice, dissolution of marriage, child custody, business law, insurance law, real estate disputes, will and estate contests and contract interpretation and disputes,” Weber said. “Having advised Appellate Court judges on rulings favoring both sides of civil and criminal cases, my experience will bring a balanced perspective to the bench. I was also Associate General Counsel at SIU-C, where I negotiated multi-million dollar contracts for the university, was responsible for litigation management (construction, hazardous material litigation, bankruptcy matters, trademark infringement, publishing contract disputes) and advised the president, chancellor and other administrative officials on various legal matters.”
Weber said every resident should be treated the same and cases should be handled as quickly as possible to ensure closure to all parties involved.
“Most people find any type of litigation to be a bit scary and unsettling,” Weber said. “So, it is important for a judge to be mindful that the controversy should be resolved as quickly as possible, always keeping in mind that a quality decision, based on the law and facts of the case , is also necessary because those decisions have a permanent impact on peoples’ lives.”
Weber said a judge is required to be fair and impartial, two of the most important qualities for a judge.
“A judge cannot allow outside influences to enter into decisions or engage in backroom deals with people,” Weber said. “That is corruption, and politics should have no place in the courtroom. The voters have had the opportunity over the last year to see how the candidates for this position have conducted themselves — professionally and personally. You can look at how each campaign has been conducted and gain understanding of what type of temperament each candidate has for this position. Integrity and impartiality are the key character issues for a judge, along with a good common sense approach to decisions based on your life experiences. In the Illinois State Bar Association Judicial Advisory Poll, local and regional attorneys rated me as the highest rated candidate for this position for the upcoming election, excelling in integrity (98.41 percent; opponent 69.62 percent); impartiality (90.48 percent, opponent 58.97 percent); sensitivity (96.77 percent, opponent 74.67 percent) ; and temperament (90.48 percent, opponent 72.15 percent).”
Villani said her journey to the election started five years ago when she was approached by a group of local police officers and county deputies to run for the office of State’s Attorney.
“It’s no secret that back then there was an enormous backlog of cases and that we had the worst conviction rate in the entire 12 counties of the 2nd Judicial Circuit,” Villani said. “I ran for State’s Attorney because I knew what needed to be done and I knew that I could take our criminal justice system in the right direction. When I became your state’s attorney, it was a game changer for this county. I took the criminal justice system with a conviction rate of a mere 36 percent and increased it to one of the highest conviction rates in the circuit at 74 percent. In 2008, there were 1,454 pending felony cases. This spring, we cut that number down to 727. Working with Judge Gamber, I was able to resolve thousands of cases and bring the caseload to the lowest level in years. It turned things around in our court system.
“Last November, when a bi-partisan committee of both Democrat and Republican attorneys recommended me, and the Illinois Supreme Court appointed me to fill the shoes of Judge Terry Gamber, I knew I had the opportunity to continue the work I began as State’s Attorney — working with Judge Gamber to fix the problems of this court system. I loved being State’s Attorney and it was a tough choice for me, but I knew I could do more as a judge. I knew that serving on the bench would allow me to continue my top priority, the prompt and efficient resolutions of cases.”
Villani said she has worked as a judge and a prosecutor.
“As your former State’s Attorney, I successfully prosecuted violent offenses like sexual assaults and first degree murder,” Villani said. “I have handled thousands of cases at the trial level and tried dozens of the most serious cases that come before a judge. I was one of the first attorneys in the State of Illinois to be certified by the Illinois Supreme Court as lead counsel in capital litigation and trial bar. Less than 1 percent of all Illinois attorneys receive this certification. My experience comes from years of standing before a jury and putting witnesses on the stand. My experience comes from the courtroom.
“As a prosecutor, I successfully prosecuted Cecil Sutherland and put him back on death row for the 1987 rape and murder of little Amy Schulz. In addition, I successfully prosecuted and convicted many other violent crimes at jury trial including the people vs. Charles Bruce Thomas for first degree murder in the beating death of his baby’s mother, Anissa Green; people vs. JoJulien Hicks in the Broadway Pawn & Loan armed robbery/death penalty murder trial for the shooting death of former police officer Dale Wagner; people vs. Dawn Workman in the beating death of her boyfriend’s father, Gary Kubicki; and people vs. Darryl Housely, in the gang related shooting death of Megell Strayhorn.”
Villani said in contrast, her opponent “has no courtroom experience as an attorney.”
“She touts that she is ‘the most experienced candidate’ but has never appeared in a courtroom, the place where judges do their job,” Villani said. “My opponent may have graduated law school before I did, but real experience is built by what you have done, not just how long you have worked. Real experience is gained by actually doing the work, not by reading about it behind a desk.”