It’s been a good year for Sarah D. Smith.
Smith, 39, is an attorney and prosecutor in Madison County who serves in the Illinois Army National Guard. Two weeks ago, she was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. She and her husband are expecting their third child. And she’s just been named one of the newest associate judges in the 3rd Judicial Circuit.
“It’s been a very good year,” Smith said, laughing. “It’s a little overwhelming.”
Smith was born in Spring Valley, Ill., and her family moved to Edwardsville when she was a few years old. She graduated from Edwardsville High School and attended Millikin University for her bachelor’s degree in political science. She attended law school at Regent University’s School of Government, graduating in 2002 with her law degree and a master’s degree in public policy.
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She had enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard right out of high school — in fact, her mother had to sign a waiver to allow her to do so, she said. Her father was a lineman for 46 years, and her brother followed in his footsteps. Her parents were divorced, and she credits her stay-at-home mother with much of her success.
“My mom instilled in me a love of reading and writing,” Smith said. “But I’ve always known, even in kindergarten, I wanted to be an attorney.”
In the Army National Guard, Smith was in the motor pool, working as a light-vehicle mechanic. She served in Afghanistan and Kosovo and has been decorated with the Bronze Star. Her military benefits helped pay for law school, Smith said, and after she graduated, she was commissioned as an officer into the JAG Corps — Judge Advocate General.
As a military lawyer, Smith helped commanders deal with administrative and disciplinary issues ranging from soldiers who failed to pay child support to operational law for deployed units: international law, escalation of force and the rules of engagement.
But “there’s just something about home,” she said, and she returned to Edwardsville to practice. She worked with the Ezra Law Practice and as a prosecutor for the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office, eventually leading the asset-forfeiture division.
She also worked with the veterans court, helping veterans who end up in the court system: Often it is drug- or alcohol-related cases stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder, she said, with some domestic or anger and mood issues. The veterans court is designed to help veterans resolve legal issues stemming from their service with treatment and counseling rather than jail time.
Smith met her husband, Michael Raschen, while on her first deployment. They now have two children, ages 4 and 2, and another on the way, due on Oct. 1.
Being a judge, Smith said, was “a lifelong dream,” but said it was very humbling and “a great surprise” to be chosen, especially out of 46 applicants.
“I want to be the best public servant that I can be,” she said. “I want to reach the public and give them a good experience… As an associate judge, you deal with a lot of matters of the heart: divorces, adoptions, even rental properties. You can make a real impact on people’s lives... I look forward to making the circuit judges proud that they selected me.”
Of the 46 original candidates who applied to replace five judges ousted in this year’s retention election, Smith and Jennifer Hightower were selected on the second round of votes. The third round narrowed the candidates to Maureen Schuette, Luther Simmons, Ben Beyers and David Flack. The nine circuit judges of the 3rd Judicial Circuit, which covers Madison County, will have to choose three of the four in order to fill the remaining seats.
Madison County Chief Judge David Hylla praised both new judges, calling them “women of outstanding character and ability.” Hylla swore in Smith on Thursday and Hightower on Friday.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2507.