Metro-East News

Southern Illinois judge to retire from federal court after 20 years and 35,000 cases

Judge David Herndon
Judge David Herndon

A federal judge will retire at the end of the year after 20 years on the bench.

U.S. District Judge David Herndon announced he will retire after this year. He was nominated by President Clinton in October 1998 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Since then, Herndon has presided over more than 35,000 cases in civil and criminal court.

“District Judge David Herndon has been a stalwart for the federal judiciary since the day he arrived,” said Judge Diane Wood, chief judge of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that oversees Herndon’s court. “He has cheerfully volunteered to try cases in other districts in this circuit, to help on appeals in the Court of Appeals, and to take the assignment of thousands of multidistrict cases in addition to his regular docket. The public, the lawyers and we judges will miss him very much.”

Among his more noteworthy cases was the prosecution of former Madison County treasurer Fred Bathon on corruption charges; of former Pontoon Beach Water District Director Brian Buske who eventually pleaded guilty to wire fraud; and ordering state Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier to cooperate with depositions in a lawsuit alleging State Farm conspired to get Karmeier elected in an effort to get a $1 billion verdict overturned. Karmeier refused to recuse himself from the case and was the deciding vote to overturn it. Appeals on that case continue in federal court.

In 1996, Herndon berated a mother who had repeatedly brought her daughter to visit Richard Womack, who had been convicted of raping the girl at least 10 times at age 6. Herndon said the girl was lured into recanting her allegations and called the mother “a liar and a perjurer.”

“You have subjected your child to the man who raped your child,” he told her when Womack requested a new trial. “I don’t understand it.”

Womack is currently serving a 50-year sentence, but will be eligible for parole in 2020. He had previously served a six-year sentence for rape, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Herndon served as the federal district’s chief judge 2007 to 2014, and served on the Judicial Conference Committee for Judicial Security for seven years, the last three as chairman. He has also been a frequent guest speaker at conferences and professional organizations.

Prior to his appointment to the federal bench, Herndon served as an associate judge in Madison County for seven years.

Attorney Bill Lucco, of Madison County, frequently appeared before Herndon, and described him as a judge who treated all parties with “the utmost respect, dignity and fairness.”

“He has embodied the perfect temperament and skill set for a judge,” Lucco said. “Lawyers have respected the thoughtfulness of his rulings, even when not in agreement. Judge Herndon’s work ethic and wisdom will be sorely missed and have set a high bar for his replacement.

Acting U.S. Attorney Don Boyce, who prosecutes criminal cases before Herndon, said the judge “embodies the best of what it means to be a judge.”

And the public defender, Steve Welby, said Herndon has “the ability to tell the difference between a bad guy and a guy who did a bad thing. He always listens carefully to what you have to say and leaves you with the feeling that the sentence is fair and just. Judge Herndon will be truly missed.”

Herndon's retirement is effective Jan. 7, 2019.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald