Republican voters in St. Clair County will see something unusual on the ballot March 20 – two candidates vying for the same judgeship.
Marshall Hilmes, 46, of Marissa, who operates a Caseyville law practice handling municipal matters - Hilmes Legal Solutions - announced his candidacy in October.
He has served as a municipal prosecutor, city attorney, arbitration hearing officer for the state and municipal zoning and hearing officer in communities throughout southern Illinois.
Hilmes will face Katherine Ruocco, 51, of Swansea, who operates a law practice in Belleville and St. Louis and who announced her intention to run for the same seat as Hilmes in November. Ruocco served as a village trustee for four years until 2017, and ran campaigns against long-time Democratic state lawmakers.
Her race against State Sen. James Clayborne (D-East St. Louis) in 2014 was close; she fell short by approximately 2,000 votes, a 3.6 percent margin. But, in a contest against State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville) in 2016, she lost by a large margin of nearly 20 points.
As next month’s election approaches, the slings have come out in a campaign for the seat being vacated by Circuit Judge Jan Fiss, an at-large position where candidates run in all five counties of the circuit - Monroe, Perry, Randolph, St. Clair and Washington.
Democrat voters will see Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf on their primary ballot.
Regarding Ruocco’s record, Hilmes’ criticized her saying she incorporated in Illinois in 2011 before she was a licensed attorney in the state, in violation of Supreme Court Rule 721 that requires an Illinois law office to have an Illinois lawyer licensed and engaged in the practice of law.
Ruocco responded by saying that the rule referenced by Hilmes requires a limited liability corporation (LLC) engaged in the practice of law to have an Illinois licensed attorney. She also said that creating the LLC before she began practicing in Illinois was not in violation of the rule.
“The subject Illinois LLC was created in 2011 in anticipation of my future Illinois practice and wasn’t engaged in the practice of law at time of creation,” Ruocco stated.
“I transitioned from a decade-long Missouri practice and began practicing law in Illinois in 2014, after obtaining my Illinois licensure. I have since been dually licensed in Missouri and Illinois.”
The latest back-and-forth between the candidates is not the first tension between Hilmes and Ruocco.
In December, Ruocco challenged Hilmes' candidacy to the Illinois State Board of Elections seeking to strike his name from the ballot. In January, the Board adopted hearing officer David Herman's Jan. 8 recommendation that Hilmes remain on the ballot.
Ruocco had argued that even though Hilmes' voter registration indicated his name is B. Marshall Hilmes, he failed to note on his nomination papers that his full or Christian name is "Brandon," as listed at the Attorney Registration and Discipline Commission (ARDC), which could lead to voter confusion.
Ruocco further challenged Hilmes' voter registration status and claimed he failed to identify in his sworn statement the specific office and the specific vacancy for which his nomination was sought, among other things.
After the March primary, the winner will go on to face Rudolf in the general election.
Republican voters in St. Clair County have had a dearth of judicial candidates to choose from in recent history as Democratic candidates have dominated the election process.
Since 2002, there have been 14 open circuit court races, nine of which were won by uncontested Democrat candidates. Of the five that were competitive, only two Repubicans have succeeded.
In 2014, Republican Steve McGlynn defeated Rudolf and in 2016, Republican Ron Duebbert defeated Democrat John Baricevic.