Former St. Clair County circuit judge Milton S. Wharton will temporarily fill the seat of Fifth District Appellate Court Justice Melissa Chapman, who is retiring Oct. 2.
He will be the first African American to serve at the Fifth District.
Wharton served 35 years as a judge in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, first as an associate judge from 1976 to 1988 and then as a circuit judge until his retirement in 2012. He will be assigned to Chapman's seat from Nov. 1 through Dec. 7, 2020.
According to a release from the Illinois Supreme Court Administrative Office of Illinois Courts, Wharton, who will turn 73 on Sept. 20, will not seek election to the seat in the November 2020 general election.
“Throughout his career, Judge Wharton has been extremely active with the organized bar and in his community. It is difficult to capture the depth of his experience and the breadth of his accomplishments in a few short sentences," Chief Justice Karmeier said in a release announcing his assignment. "I am grateful to Judge Wharton that he is willing to interrupt his retirement from the bench to help the appellate court on an interim basis and confident that he will undertake this new responsibility with the same commitment and diligence he has shown throughout his remarkable career.”
Wharton has served on numerous committees involving the local and state bar associations and previously served as president of the St. Clair County Bar Association. He also is former 1st Vice President of the East St. Louis Chapter of the NAACP, past board member of the East St. Louis chapter of Habitat for Humanity, past co-chair of the crime study committee of the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council, and recipient of a Special Recognition Award for Access to Justice from the Illinois State Bar Association.
"I would like to express my sincerest appreciation to Chief Justice Karmeier and the other Justices of the Illinois Supreme Court for this assignment,” Judge Wharton said. “I will do my utmost to prove myself deserving of this honor."
Chapman, 68, was appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court at the recommendation of former Justice Moses Harrison to replace retiring Fifth District Justice Charles Chapman in 2001. She won the seat in 2002, and was retained to a 10-year term in 2012.
Chapman and Wharton are Democrats.
Candidates for the open seat in next year's race can begin circulating petitions for the March 17 primary.