Brace yourself, southern Illinois, there's going to be an open seat race for the Fifth District Appellate Court next year.
Justice Bruce Stewart recently announced that he will not seek retention to another 10-year term in the 2016 general election.
Stewart, a Democrat from Carbondale, said he plans to retire to spend more time with his family when his term ends on Dec. 5 next year.
His retirement will create a vacancy that could play out as an another expensive judicial contest in the Fifth Judicial District, which encompasses the state's 37 southern most counties.
Stewart won his appellate court seat in 2006 in a race against Stephen McGlynn, a Republican from Belleville. Last year, McGlynn won election as circuit judge in St. Clair County.
In the Stewart-McGlynn appellate court race, the two candidates spent nearly $3 million combined.
Citizens of the Fifth District have grown accustomed to contentious and costly judicial campaigns, as they play out as high stakes contests funded by special interests.
Last year, lawyers with financial interests in two separate billion dollar-plus cases invested $2 million in a last-minute, negative campaign against Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier as he sought retention to a second 10-year term. Karmeier was retained by a slim margin.
Karmeier, a Republican from Nashville, was first elected to the state's high court in 2004 in what was the most expensive state supreme court race ever in the country. More than $9 million was spent by both sides in a record that still holds. In that race, Karmeier defeated Gordon Maag, a Democrat from Glen Carbon.
In 2012, a race for the Fifth District between Judy Cates, a Democrat from Swansea, and McGlynn cost approximately $534,000. Cates won by a margin of 52 to 48 percent.
Cates previously made an unsuccessful bid for the the Fifth District in 2008, losing in the Democratic primary to James Wexstten of Mount Vernon, who went on to win the general election.
Wexstten, who retired last year, raised $500,000 in the primary to Cateses' $800,000.
When Stewart retires, he will have served as a judge for 21 years – 11 years as a circuit judge and 10 years as an appellate judge, according to a release from the Illinois Supreme Court.
Prior to serving as a judge, he was a practicing attorney in southern Illinois for 19 years. He will be 64 at the end of his term.
"Serving as an Illinois judge in both the circuit court and the appellate court has been an honor and a privilege," Stewart said in a statement.
Although he has no specific plans following retirement, Stewart indicated that he will likely continue to work in the legal field on a part-time basis.