Judge Weber takes the oath administered by Justice Lloyd Karmeier
Madison County Circuit Judge Don Weber told an overflowing crowd at his swearing-in ceremony that he plans to "earn trust as a judge."
The controversial figure--whose appointment was being protested by members of a local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter (NAACP) hours before--also demonstrated a willingness to reconcile differences with his harshest critics.
Weber apologized for remarks he made more than a decade ago that were deemed racist.
After Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier administered the judicial oath to Weber in a third floor courtroom Friday afternoon, the new judge was careful to distinguish between prosecutorial advocacy and judicial impartiality.
"During the heat of trial some things are said that can be hurtful," said Weber, a former Madison County prosecutor.
In 1990, Weber was fired by Madison County State's Attorney William Haine (now a state senator) for refusing to apologize for making this comment in the press: "the environment in a certain segment of the black community where lying is just like breathing to some of these people."
“Hopefully we can put that behind us so we can turn the page and move on,” said Weber.
“Every person who comes to my courtroom will be treated fairly.”
Spilling into the hallway outside, a crowd of approximately 150 included the judges of the 3rd Circuit, many Madison county elected officials including State's Attorney Bill Mudge--Weber’s former boss--area police officers and other supporters.
Appellate Judge Stephen McGlynn also was in attendance.
Retired State Sen. Eveyln Bowles, a Democratic, was in attendance.
Before Weber was sworn in the Alton Chapter of the NAACP staged a protest in front of the courthouse claiming Weber was a racist.
Joe Williams said the protest was designed to bring awareness to the public so they can revisit Weber’s views on racism.
“This is something that is already out there, people just need to be aware how much impact he will have,” said Williams, vice-president.
Samuel White, chairman of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens of Alton and a member of the NAACP, said he was looking for a simple apology from Weber for the comments he made nearly 10 years ago.
“We all make mistakes, some things have changed in the last 10 years, but where is the apology if he is in fact sorry for what he said.”
James Gray, president of the Alton NCAAP, said Justice Karmeier should have consulted with his organization before choosing who would fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Phillip Kardis.
“If Karmeier would have chosen (Associate Judge) Jim Hackett we would not be here today," Gray said. "The fact is, this is a slap in the face to all African-Americans.”
Mudge said that Weber, who stepped down as assistant state's attorney to become judge, has never exhibited racist tendencies that were being alleged by the NAACP.
One local attorney and former Madison County Judge, Tom Hildebrand, had a decidedly different opinion of Weber.
“Don has more baggage than an Amtrak train, and any black that would vote for Weber would be like a chicken voting for Col. Sanders,” said Hildebrand.
Hildebrand also said that any cases he brings that are assigned to Weber, he will immediately request a different judge.
“He will never get a case, he is openly against the plaintiff's bar," said Hildebrand.
Hildebrand also noted that he would not be attending the ceremony.
“However I will attend his retirement party next year, he cannot win," he said.
Weber is assigned to the handle civil cases. He has 32 pending class action cases.
Justice Karmeier said despite the national press coverage during the last election about the judges being awful is not how he feels.
“I can attest to the fact that the judges in Madison County are good, and I am very proud of their work,” Karmeier said.