QA: A lonely Republican, Norton expects tough judicial race

Ann Knef Nov. 21, 2005, 8:32am

Editor's note: The Record continues its discussion with St. Clair County judges with the newest member of the 20th Judicial Circuit, William C. Norton.

Circuit Court Judge Norton currently serves as the presiding judge of the Family Division in St. Clair County.

Norton, 52, was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court and sworn into office on March 7 to fill the vacancy created when Judge James K. Donovan was elected to the Fifth District Appellate Court.

Norton graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in 1975 and graduated from the Southern Illinois University Carbondale School of Law in 1978.

Prior to his appointment, Norton engaged in the general practice of law for twenty–six years with the firm of Conn, Clendenin, and Norton with offices in Sparta and Marissa.

Norton and his wife, Cathy, have three three sons: Andrew, Ryan, and Jonathan.

Q.In the few months since you’ve been appointed circuit judge, assess your handling of the job.

A. I have now served as a circuit judge for a period of eight months and I am pleased with my transition from engaging in the daily general practice of law to that of serving as a circuit judge.

I currently serve as the presiding judge of the family division in St. Clair County.

On my first day I encountered a pre-trial docket that exceeded sixty cases. My daily schedule has remained busy as I preside over divorce, child custody, child support, adoption, and other family related matters.

When I was sworn in as a circuit judge I made a pledge that I would work hard, I would be fair and honest. I feel that I have kept my promise.

Q.How would the attorneys who regularly appear in your court rate your job performance?

A.I am not able to provide an answer as to how the attorneys who appear before me on a regular basis would rate or assess my job performance.

I think an answer to that question will be provided after my judicial evaluation through the poll as conducted by the Illinois State Bar Association.

I would state that I engaged in the general practice of law for twenty-six years and during that time I developed a relationship of mutual support and respect with the majority of attorneys who now appear before me on a regular basis.

I have received positive feedback from the attorneys as to my judicial performance. On a daily basis, I attempt to treat the attorneys and litigants who appear before me with the same dignity and respect they should show to the Court.

Q.Have you implemented any changes?

A.The St Clair County Bar Association has a Family Law Committee and I meet with this committee on a monthly basis wherein we discuss and entertain suggestions to improve the efficiency of the family courts.

I have not attempted to implement any major procedural changes since my appointment as a circuit judge. The 20th Judicial Circuit operates pursuant to certain Local Rules of Practice so even if I had the inclination I would not be able to implement any major procedural change without an amendment to the Local Rules.

I have attempted to encourage all attorneys to take pride in their preparation of pleadings and orders which are submitted to the court for entry and approval. I have also attempted to encourage all of the attorneys to manage all of their own cases so as to attempt to achieve a prompt resolution of the same.

Q.What public perceptions about the judiciary, locally or otherwise, do you believe need to be addressed or corrected?

A.At the present time, I do not believe the general public has a positive perception of our local judiciary.

I am not sure that this opinion is totally warranted or justified, but nonetheless I do believe that the general public holds our local judiciary in low esteem.

The judiciary itself may not be able to solve this entire problem. As an example, I believe a part of this negative perception of the judiciary by the general public is a result of the manner in which certain issues are reported by the media and press, and in many of these cases the judge in question may not be able to provide any form of comment or response because of ethical or legal restraints.

However, there are certain things that the judiciary itself can do to address this problem. I believe it would be proper and helpful for all judges to become active members of civic organizations within their community and in other ways become involved in their local community.

It would be helpful if judges would speak to local groups within their community about the role of the judiciary. The public needs to know that a judge is a real person who has a family and who experiences the same joys and has many of the same interests and concerns as members of the general public.

I think it is important for all judges to be punctual and prompt in their duties. A judge needs to make every effort to ensure that cases under his or her control proceed swiftly through the system to a final conclusion without unnecessary delay. This is especially true about cases that are of particular interest to the general public.

The court serves as the final destination for the ultimate disposition of disputes. The general public must have the confidence to know that when they appear before the court as a litigant that they and their attorney will be treated with dignity and respect.

They also need to know that they will receive a fair and impartial resolution of their dispute by the court without regard to their race, gender, wealth, or political affiliation.

Q.Do you expect a tough race for circuit judge in 2006?

A. I intend to be a candidate of the Republican Party for the position of Circuit Judge within the 20th Judicial Circuit. The election, which will be held on Nov. 7, 2006, will determine this circuit judge position.

I expect the race to be difficult, especially given the political demographics of southern Illinois and the Metro-East area.

Q.How will you make your case to voters?

A.To my knowledge, I am the only Judge (one of 25) who is a Republican that serves the five-county area. St. Clair, Monroe, Randolph, Perry, and Washington Counties make up the 20th Judicial Circuit.

It is clear that we do not have any type or form of political balance within our local judiciary. Given the present image of our courts in the eyes of the public, and given the current political climate, I believe the voters are ready for change.

I intend to work hard in my campaign without making any personal attacks against my potential opponent. I intend to also stress my twenty-six years of experience wherein I engaged in the daily general practice of law and what will be my experience as a judge for almost two years.

Q.Can you provide a courtroom anecdote, in which you have either been uplifted, humbled, surprised, or saddened?

A. All court proceedings involve a great deal of emotion, but the emotional level is especially high when you are dealing with family issues such as a divorce, child custody or child visitation issues.

While I firmly believe and insist upon proper behavior and decorum in the courtroom, I do my best to provide a relaxed atmosphere that is not intimidating to the litigants.

If the parties to a legal proceeding feel at ease and comfortable it helps to relieve the tension associated with the entire proceeding.

I am saddened in general at the large number and extremely high percentage of marriages that end in divorce. I am further saddened and concerned for the many children that will not have the benefit of being raised in a traditional family atmosphere where they would have the benefit of the guidance and support of both of their natural parents on a daily basis.

I do find that adoption proceedings can be a happy and uplifting experience.

It is a good feeling when you know that a child that did not have a good start in life will be with parents who will do their best to provide that child with a loving home environment and an opportunity to succeed.

There is also a place for humor and lighter moments in the courtroom. My most embarrassing moment to date occurred about one week after I assumed my judicial position. On that day, we were set to begin the start of a trial and for some reason my clerk was not present with me in the courtroom.

We started the hearing and after about twenty minutes of testimony I remembered that I had forgotten to swear in the witness so that her testimony would be under oath. Needless to say, the attorneys and the litigants got a chuckle based on my error but were understanding when we were forced to start the proceedings anew.

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