Bethany Krajelis Dec. 15, 2014, 3:41pm

In presenting an award to a recently-retired judge on Friday, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier briefly talked about the “last minute ambush” on his November retention election.

Karmeier narrowly survived a $2 million campaign against his bid for a second term behind the high court bench that he said came from “a handful of lawyers from Chicago and from some other states who stood to profit financially by reshaping the makeup of the court.”

The challenge marked the second time in “three retention cycles members of our Supreme Court have faced well financed and well-orchestrated opposition to retention,” First District Appellate Court Justice and Illinois Judges Association President Michael B. Hyman said before introducing Karmeier.

The IJA hosted a luncheon Friday in Chicago that included a keynote speech from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The event, which fell during the IJA and Illinois State Bar Association’s midyear meeting, also included the presentation of IJA awards to retired judges James Wexstten and Sheila Murphy.

Talking about the challenge to his retention, Karmeier said “it was a smear campaign of the worst sort and a direct challenge to the integrity and independence of the courts. And it was something that Jim Wexstten simply could not abide.”

Despite coming from different political parties, Karmeier said Wexstten, a Democrat who retired from the downstate appellate court in January, “did not hesitate to speak out publicly against what was happening. While others fled for cover, Jim stood firm in the defense of truth.”

“It was truly heroic and it helped carry the day for me,” the recently-retained justice said, before presenting Wexstten with IJA’s “Distinguished Service Award.”

Karmeier was elected to the 2nd Judicial Circuit two years before Wexstten and then recommended him to fill a vacancy on the Fifth District in 2007, shortly after joining the Supreme Court. He said Wexstten was collegial during their time as opposing counsel and as a judge, earned a reputation for his commitment to his colleagues, community, profession and family.

“Whenever he was called to serve, Jim answered the call without hesitation,” Karmeier said, listing off several court committees and other assignments Wexstten agreed to take on during his career, which also includes a number of awards.

Wexstten said he was honored and humbled to receive the award, and such kind remarks from Karmeier and Hyman, who serves as IJA president.

Before introducing Karmeier to present the award, Hyman described Wexstten as a people person who “has a knack of instantly putting others at ease” and “a positive contagious zest for life.”

He said Wexstten and retired Cook County judge Sheila M. Murphy, who received the IJA’s “Lifetime Achievement Award,” have character and careers that should “stand as inspirations to us.”

“Their significance as lawyers and judges reaches beyond their role as mere role models,” Hyman said. “They are life models.”

Murphy was a public defender before joining the judiciary and becoming the first woman to serve as a presiding judge of a municipal district courthouse in Cook County.

During her career, Hyman said Murphy brought an array of services to the courthouse, including a children’s room for parents to drop their kids off at, a general education program, a health clinic and recovery meetings, among others.

In accepting the award, Murphy said she “won the lottery of life” when she became a judge.

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