Metro-East News

‘Women of outstanding character’: Two of five empty judge positions filled in Madison County

Two of the five empty judges’ seats in Madison County have been filled on the second ballot.

The circuit judges of the 3rd Judicial Circuit have voted to select prosecutors Jennifer Hightower and Sarah D. Smith as the newest associate judges of the circuit.

Five associate judges in Madison County lost their seats when they failed to receive 60 percent of the retention votes cast by the circuit judges in June. Judges Duane Bailey, Ben Beyers, Donald Flack, David Grounds and Elizabeth Levy all applied to be reinstated, along with 41 other contenders.

The first ballot failed to provide a majority for any of the candidates, but narrowed the field to 11 names. The second ballot elected Hightower and Smith, which still leaves three empty seats. On the third ballot, the successful candidates will have to receive a majority of the nine circuit judges’ votes in order to be elected.

“I am extremely pleased to add two women of outstanding character and ability to our bench,” said Madison County Chief Judge David Hylla. “I look forward to seeing their energy and enthusiasm work to provide an efficient administration of justice for the people of Madison and Bond counties.”

Hightower is an associate attorney at the Simmons Hanly Conroy law firm and a prosecutor with the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2005, and her juris doctorate from Thomas Cooley School of Law in Lansing, Mich. in 2009. She is also an adjunct professor at Lewis & Clark Community College.

Smith is an associate attorney at Ezra & Associates, a prosecutor with the Madison County State’s Attorney’s Office and a deputy staff judge advocate with the Illinois Army National Guard, in which she has served for 20 years and recently was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel. She received her undergraduate degree from Millikin University in Decatur in 1998, a master’s degree and her juris doctorate in 2002 from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va.

Hylla praised both candidates, stating that Hightower has worked for “a highly respected law firm” and done “outstanding work” in the state’s attorney’s office. He also pointed out that Smith worked in civil litigation before becoming a prosecutor. “The circuit bench is honored to add an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and Kosovo, and has been decorated with the Bronze Star,” he said.

Ballots will be mailed to the circuit judges again with the following names: Beyers, Flack, Maureen D. Schuette and Luther W. Simmons. The judges will have to choose three of these in order to fill the remaining seats, according to Hylla — which means at least one of the judges seated in the end will be one of those that were voted off in June.

The judges have two weeks to vote and mail in their ballots to the state court.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at or 618-239-2507.