When attorney William Stiehl Jr. received "the call" in mid-July, he hesitated, but only for a short time.
The caller was Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier, an old friend and colleague, and he was asking whether the Belleville attorney would step up and help out.
A vacancy in the 20th Judicial Circuit covering Monroe, Perry, Randolph, St. Clair and Washington counties needed filling, but it would only be for three months until the November elections.
It was vacant since the death of Judge Robert LeChien on Aug. 31, 2017, an opening that proved somewhat controversial, particularly given the circuit is already short handed.
For a busy practicing attorney, the question had to be asked whether it was really worth the hassle dropping the business for such a short period of time.
But Stiehl said yes to Karmeier and will be sworn in as a circuit court judge today (Wednesday), and begins work Thursday.
It was a quick process after receiving the call in mid-July. The Supreme Court has said it was asked to replace LeChien on July 17.
"I did give it some thought but decided to accept," Stiehl told the Madison-St. Clair Record. "The chief justice was up front about this being a three month appointment but told me they were really short handed."
Now on the cusp of stepping up to the bench, Stiehl, the son of the late U.S. District Court Judge William D. Stiehl, the attorney said he is looking forward to the challenge.
"It really gives me an opportunity to do something that I have never had the opportunity to do before, and expect it to be rewarding," Stiehl said.
Stiehl said he has already been assigned a docket and will be working in the probate section of the circuit court. It is where there is the greatest need, he was told.
But Stiehl is hesitant about his future plans and whether he wants to follow in his father's footsteps and seek a more permanent position on the bench.
U.S. District Judge Stiehl was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, and served on the bench of the Southern District until his retirement in 2014. He died in 2016, at age 90.
And there is a vacancy in the federal district with the pending retirement of Judge David Herndon, who was appointed in 1998, and was chief judge for seven years until 2014.
On the possibility of ascending to a bench permanently, Stiehl said, "It is something I have given some thought to but am not actively campaigning for. I have just not thought that far ahead."
Following that July call, Stiehl said he has been busy wrapping up ongoing cases he is involved in, including making sure there are other attorneys ready to step in.
Stiehl has worked in private practice for nearly 40 years and has appeared in every courtroom in St. Clair County, according to a biography provided by the Supreme Court.
Following his higher education at Vanderbilt University and his law degree from Tulane University School of Law, Stiehl began his career as an assistant public defender in St. Clair County.
Following his time with the public defender's office, Stiehl spent 27 years as a partner at law firms in Belleville before branching out as a sole practitioner in 2011. He has handled civil and criminal cases in state and federal court.
Stiehl has worked pro-bono for the Land of Lincoln Legal Foundation, and serves as a board member for Family Hospice in Belleville.
In a statement following the announcement of the appointment of Stiehl, Chief Justice Karmeier pointedly referred to its timing, that is so close to the election.
“The timing of Chief Judge (Anthony) Gleeson’s request, coming as it did so close to the upcoming elections, presented a unique challenge for the Court,” Karmeier stated in his statement.
Gleeson, the circuit's chief judge, has said it was not up to him to request a replacement, and there was nothing that explicitly states he has to do so in the Illinois Constitution.
However, a spokesman for the Illinois Supreme Court had stated previously that the process for filling a vacant circuit seat begins with a request from a chief judge and the Supreme Court responds.
It was up to Karmeier to decide and make the appointment because the 20th Circuit is where he, as elected justice, emerged from.
Karmeier said his statement: “We did not want to interfere in the fall judicial races by favoring any of the current candidates with the head start this interim appointment might provide.
"At the same time, there were obvious, practical difficulties in finding a competent attorney with the flexibility and desire to accept what will be an extremely brief appointment."
The Supreme Court, he said, was "therefore very pleased to be able to call on someone of Mr. Stiehl’s experience and ability."
Stiehl will serve until the winner of the November election takes up their position in December. Former St. Clair County Associate Judge Laninya Cason, a Republican, is running against her Democratic opponent, Associate Judge Chris Kolker.