St. Clair County Circuit Judge Bob LeChien died early Thursday morning, according to Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson.
LeChien, 65, was first elected to the bench in 1998. He died of complications from surgery.
“He was a bright legal mind, a true intellectual of the bench,” Gleeson said of LeChien. “He was never afraid to take on complicated complex litigation.”
A Democrat, he narrowly defeated Republican challenger LaNinya Cason for his seat in November.
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Circuit Judges John Baricevic, LeChien and Robert Haida announced they would retire and run for the judge positions created by their retirement in November, rather than run for retention. The move allowed them to avoid running for retention. By doing so, they needed to receive only one more vote than their opponents. In a retention vote, a judge needs to receive “yes” votes from at least 60 percent of voters.
“Bob LeChien was an intellectual --- as smart a just as any on the bench,” Baricevic said. “He knew the law. He was a well-prepared smart guy.”
Other judges agreed.
“He was a nice guy, a strong member of the judiciary,” said Circuit Judge Randy Kelley. “He will be sorely missed.”
Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier, a Republican, may make an appointment to fill LeChien’s seat until the November election. Gleeson said that the seat may remain open because by the time a screening committee is put together the election may be here. Gleeson said he intends to be in communication with Karmeier regarding the vacancy.
During the two-year state budget impasse, LeChien ordered that state workers be paid even though the Democratic controlled General Assembly and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner had not come to an agreement on an appropriations bill.
The order made sure state government operations would not shut down.
When Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked LeChien to lift his injunction in order to force a budget deal, he refused and kept the state operating with employees continuing to receive their paychecks.
“It so sad,” Associate Judge Heinz Rudolph said. “We are praying for his family.”