Second Judicial Circuit Judge James M. Wexstten will fill the vacancy created by the untimely death of Justice Terrence J. Hopkins, the Illinois Supreme Court announced today.
Supreme Court Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier of the Fifth Judicial Circuit recommended the appointment of Wexstten after an extensive application, evaluation and interview process that included review by a seven-person screening committee, according to a press release issued by the court.
Wexstten’s appointment is effective Feb. 2 and will end Dec. 1, 2008, when the position will be filled by the November 2008 general election.
“I’m incredibly honored by the trust placed in me by Justice Karmeier and the Illinois Supreme Court,” Wexstten stated in the court press release. “It’s a bittersweet acceptance because of my deep affection for Terry Hopkins. I pledge to apply the law fairly and impartially.”
Wexstten, 56, has served as a circuit judge since 1988 and has been elected chief judge of his circuit twice during that period. The Second Circuit includes Crawford, Richland, Lawrence, Wabash, Edwards, Wayne, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, White, Gallatin and Hardin.
Wexstten, a Democrat, lost an appellate court primary race in March 2002. Madison County attorney Melissa Chapman, daughter of powerful plaintiff’s attorney Morris Chapman of Granite City, defeated him. She had no prior judicial experience.
He is immediate past president of the Illinois Judges Association (IJA), past president of the Jefferson County Bar Association, member of numerous ISBA and Supreme Court committees, instructor at the Supreme Court’s seminars for new judges and an original member of the Judicial Ethics opinions Advisory Committee.
Clarence W. Demoss, a senior partner of Hohlt, House, DeMoss & Epplin in Nashville and a member of a previous appellate court screening committee, served as chairman of this committee.
Other members of the committee were Robert Coble, a senior partner of Coble & Milone in Flora; Matthew Hortenstine, a lawyer with the Taylor Law Office in Effingham; Phil Lading, a partner with Roth, Evans & Lading in Granite City; Tim Neubauer of Neubauer & Overstreet in Mt. Vernon; Gayl Pyatt of Pyatt Law Office in Pinckneyville and Rebecca Whittington from Rebecca Whittington Law Office in Carbondale.
While he was IJA president in 2005, Wexstten crusaded for full funding of state trial courts.
He supported a revenue-neutral method of redistributing locally collected fees so that people living in poorer counties would be equally served in their local courts.
“The judiciary is a third and co-equal branch of the government. The executive branch is fully funded, the legislative branch is fully funded,” said Wexstten in an earlier interview. “We’re not a program, we’re not a committee. We’re the Third Branch of government.”
He also said the judiciary was under attack and encouraged state judges to go into their communities to help restore public confidence.
Before his career on the bench, Wexstten practiced law as owner of the Law Office of James W. Wexstten. He also was a partner with Giamanco and Wexstten, and was employed as an associate with the same firm prior to becoming partner.
He also served as the U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Illinois. Wexstten is a graduate of Nokomis High School, he attended Kaskaskia College and graduate with a bachelor’s of science degree from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
He received his juris doctor from Southern Illinois University School of Law.