Two candidates are vying for a circuit judgeship, and four current circuit judges are seeking retention in the 3rd Judicial Circuit, which covers Madison and Bond counties.
The candidates for the judgeship, created by the retirement of Circuit Judge Charles Romani Jr., are Tom Burkart, a Republican and attorney from Hamel, and Kyle Napp, a Godfrey Democrat who currently serves as an associate judge.
Burkart says he wants to be a conservative alternative for the court.
Burkart, 52, received his bachelor's degree in Cincinnati and his law degree at St. Louis University in 1985. He served in the U.S. Army Reserves for 13 years before an honorable discharge as a captain.
Burkart served as a Madison County public defender for four years, as well as representing Hamel Township and village for more than 20 years. He founded Burkart Law in 1986 with his wife, Karen Burkart, with whom he has four children.
Burkart has largely handled small-business lawsuits, often connected with the construction industry. He said one of his complaints is that large class-action suits and asbestos suits crowd out other cases on the docket.
"I want to ... improve the delivery of justice to the common guy, not just the asbestos lawyers," Burkart said. "I don't represent asbestos clients or class-action suits, I represent the average guy who's got a problem."
Burkart also said he believes the Madison County state's attorney's office is a "minor-league farm system for the circuit bench," and thinks that should stop. "If you look at the judges that have been appointed, it's been from the state's attorney's office," he said. "That doesn't give you enough overall experience to be a judge."
Burkart said he approved of his opponents projects such as the veterans court, mental health court and child advocacy center, calling them "great things."
"But I do think there is room for improvement in the area of docketing the civil side, where there are people who are damaged economically or otherwise," Burkart said. "But local cases are paid less attention and bumped out of the way to facilitate the asbestos docket."
Napp, 45, earned her law degree at University of Illinois, then joined the state's attorney's office. Napp said she handled some of the office's toughest cases, including murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery and crimes against children.
She was appointed an associate judge in 2007 and currently handles the drug court.
"In 2011, I was the highest-rated Madison County associate judge in the Illinois State Bar Association Judicial Advisory Survey, receiving an overall rating of 96 percent," Napp said.
She said she treats everyone who comes into her courtroom fairly, impartially and with respect.
"Criminal law is extremely complex, and I am the only candidate with the extensive experience trying major felony cases as a prosecutor and now presiding over similar cases as a judge," she said. "I have proven through my work as a prosecutor and a judge and through my role as a community volunteer that I have the integrity, compassion, legal ability, work ethic and experience necessary for the position of circuit judge."
Napp was a co-founder of the Madison County Child Advocacy Center, where children who have suffered or witnessed abuse are interviewed and receive treatment. Her honors include being named the St. Louis Rams' 2010 Georgia Frontiere Community Quarterback Volunteer of the Year.
Up for retention
The circuit judges seeking retention are John Knight, David Hylla, Barbara Crowder and Chief Judge Ann Callis. The Madison County Bar Association supports retention of each of the judges.
A group with Tea Party leanings, called Citizens for Judicial Integrity, has been conducting a campaign urging residents to vote against the retention of the judges. The group says Madison County judges are supported by plaintiff attorneys, who have grown a litigation industry at the expense of the economy, jobs and health care.
Another group, Illinois Civil Justice League, which is mostly backed by businesses, endorsed Knight, Hylla and Callis, but not Crowder. Callis removed Crowder from the asbestos docket last year after Crowder's husband solicited $30,000 in campaign donations from law firms that represent asbestos plaintiffs. Those firms later received a large majority of the trial slots on Crowder's asbestos docket.
The judges say they've improved the courts in recent years through various initiatives, including a mediation program in the civil courts.
A circuit judge needs to receive at least 60 percent "yes" votes in order to be retained.