Judicial contests in Madison and St. Clair counties, rarities in recent elections, are helping to shape the 2012 political landscape.
In the 20th Judicial Circuit, vacancies created by the upcoming retirement of Circuit Judge Milton Wharton and the 2010 retirement of Judge Michael O'Malley have prompted two interesting contests that voters in St. Clair, Monroe, Randolph, Perry and Washington counties will decide.
Associate Judge Vincent Lopinot of Swansea is seeking the Democratic nomination for O'Malley's seat.
The current occupant of O'Malley's bench, Judge Stephen McGlynn - a Republican - is seeking election to the Fifth District Appellate Court.
O'Malley, who had presided over major civil litigation including product liability cases, retired before the end of his term to join the St. Louis firm Carey & Danis – a personal injury firm that specializes in pharmaceutical litigation.
Lopinot, who had been a traffic court judge, was recently assigned to St. Clair County's growing asbestos docket, as well as to hundreds of other civil actions – including class actions and product liability cases. Those cases had belonged to Associate Judge Andrew Gleeson, but were transferred to Lopinot last month through an annual docket rotation.
Gleeson, of Belleville, also is seeking elective office in 2012.
However, he is running unopposed for the vacancy created by Judge Lloyd Cueto's retirement in December.
While unopposed in the primary, Lopinot will face Belleville attorney Ronald Duebbert, a Republican, in the general election.
Duebbert's law practice specializes in criminal defense and personal injury litigation, according to the Duebbert Law Office website.
Duebbert recently contributed $20,000 to his campaign committee, Citizens for Ronald Duebbert.
Lopinot does not have an active campaign committee, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections website.
For Wharton's vacancy, a battle for the Democratic nomination is heating up between the party nominated candidate - Associate Judge Zina Cruse of Belleville – and assistant State's Attorney Anne Fohne Keeley of Smithton.
Cruse, who presides in the court's Family Division, says that she is running for circuit judge, "so you can walk into the courthouse and know that no matter who you are...no matter what your background...no matter what your history...I will take the time to appreciate it."
Keeley states on her campaign website, "Our Courts must be focused on upholding the law and free from political influence. I pledge I will be a Judge you can depend on and trust. I will protect the integrity and dignity of the judicial system -- the cornerstone of our Democracy, so all persons who appear before me will know that they can expect impartiality, fairness, and justice."
On the Republican ticket for Wharton's vacancy is Associate Judge Laninya Cason, who switched party affiliation after a falling out with the Democratic Party in St. Clair County.
Cason, who has been an associate judge since 2003, will go on to challenge Cruse or Keeley in the general election.
Keeley has contributed $55,000 to her campaign committee, Keeley for Judge, according to the Board of Elections website.
Cruse has established Committee to Elect Zina Cruse, reflecting that $750 was on hand when the organization was formed. No other contributions have been made, according to the Board of Elections website.
Cason has not established a campaign committee.
Editor's note: Next week, we'll look at the Madison County contest for a vacancy created by Circuit Judge Charles Romani, who is retiring in December. Associate Judge Kyle Napp is running on the Democratic ticket. Attorneys Mark Rabe of Edwardsville and Thomas Burkart of Hamel are seeking the Republican nomination.