Appellate Justice James Wexstten pledged to highlight judicial credentials as he welcomed rival Democratic candidate Judy Cates to the race for the Fifth District Appellate Court.
"I look forward to an active and hard-fought campaign," Wexstten said Tuesday. "The voters deserve the most qualified judiciary possible and I intend to focus my campaign on the clear differences in qualifications and experience between the candidates for the voters."
Cates, of Swansea, has spent her career as a personal injury lawyer, earning a reputation for filing class action and medical malpractice lawsuits. She is a former law partner of Stephen Tillery and Rex Carr.
On Monday she formally announced her candidacy. The two will square off in a primary race in February.
Wexstten has served as a judge for nearly 20 years, including two terms as chief judge of the 2nd Circuit. He earned a 96.63% evaluation by downstate attorneys in the 2000 judicial advisory poll conducted by the Illinois State Bar Association.
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier appointed Wexstten to fill the vacancy on the appellate court left by the death of Judge Terence Hopkins earlier this year.
Cates recently finished a year stint as president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association and was instrumental in killing venue, class action, asbestos and expert witness reform bills in the state's spring legislative session. At the same time she helped usher in a law that expands recovery under the wrongful death statute.
Cates plans to close her Swansea law office on Friday to campaign full-time and said she plans to visit all 37 counties that make up the Fifth District.
"Voters will have to decide whether they want a candidate who has spent his career working for fair and impartial courts or someone who has mainly served as an advocate for one interest group," Wexstten said.
"My opponent is the past president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association while I am the past president of the Illinois Judges Association," Wexstten said. "I have worked hard to improve the quality and reputation of our state's courts and have served on the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee and the Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee and I have been appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to teach judges across the state."
Wexstten also has served as past president and is a member of the Board of Directors of Prevent Child Abuse Illinois. He founded the Southern Thirty Adolescent Center to provide emergency shelter for abused and neglected children and has been a speaker and lecturer for the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
"Judicial campaigns are not like other campaigns," Wexstten said. "I intend to run on my credentials and experience and I would challenge my opponent to do the same."
"The voters will have a clear choice between two candidates with very different backgrounds and very different experiences in the law."