Voters could alter the face of the McHenry County judiciary with their chance to elect three new circuit judges.
Hoping to fill the vacancy left by retired McHenry County Judge Michael Caldwell are Elizabeth “Beth” Vonau, D-Crystal Lake; and incumbent David Gervais, R-Crystal Lake, who was appointed to the position Feb. 5, 2018. Jeannie Ridings, D-Crystal Lake; Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills; Donald Brewer, R-Algonquin; and incumbent Justin Hansen, R-Crystal Lake, each are vying for a Third Subcircuit vacancy. Kimberley Crum Klein, D-Lake in the Hills, and sitting Judge Mark Gerhardt, R-Lakewood, hope to snag the Fourth Subcircuit vacancy.
Each of the three circuit judge vacancies in McHenry County has female and Democratic candidates, meaning voters could diversify what currently is a Republican- and male-dominant 22nd Judicial Circuit. The election will be March 17.
Third Subcircuit vacancy
Former McHenry County Clerk Mary McClellan is among the four candidates hoping to fill a Third Subcircuit vacancy. A believer in term limits, McClellan has vowed to serve no more than two terms if elected.
“Anyone who gets elected to this spot that does not self-limit their terms could conceivably stay in that position for another 40 years, because these judicial spots are by retention only every six years,” McClellan said. “It is almost impossible to vote out a judge position once they have it. History shows that in McHenry County no judge has been voted out at retention of the seat.”
McClellan, who spent four years as the McHenry County clerk, has experience in both the McHenry County and Cook County state’s attorney’s offices. In private practice, she defended civil rights cases for the sheriff of Cook County and other municipalities, she said.
Her opponent, sitting Judge Justin Hansen, took office Feb. 8 after being appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by retired former Chief Judge Michael J. Sullivan. Having worked several years in private practice, Hansen has experience representing clients on medical malpractice, criminal and juvenile cases, as well as real estate transactions and business disputes. Hansen also has experience as a prosecutor and special public defender.
Former Algonquin Village President Donald Brewer and Crystal Lake lawyer Jeannie Ridings also have their eyes set on the Third Subcircuit vacancy.
Brewer began practicing law in Illinois in 1974 and served as the Algonquin village president from 1989 to 1993.
He also served on the McHenry County Board from 1996 to 2006, was a primary candidate for the 32nd District State Senate seat and was a Rotary International district governor from 2017 to 2018. Brewer was censured by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission in 2006 for neglecting a personal injury matter. He again was censured in 2009 for representing two clients with conflicting interests.
Brewer said his prior discipline isn’t reflective of the way he conducts himself now and wouldn’t impede on his ability to hold judicial office.
“It wouldn’t have any effect at all,” Brewer said.
He currently is in good standing with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and authorized to practice law in Illinois. Objections were filed against both Brewer and Hansen’s petitions, although it was not immediately clear why.
Ridings, who has been practicing law since 2005, said she is passionate about representing clients whose civil rights have been violated, or victims of others’ abuses of power. In 2016, Ridings received the “Peace and Justice Award” for her representation of victims of domestic violence. She and her law partner and fellow judicial candidate, Elizabeth Vonau, made a point to announce their bids Aug. 26 – National Women’s Equality Day.
“It is important that the community is reflected in the makeup of the bench and that women voters, attorneys and litigants see they are represented at all levels of the government,” Vonau said. “It is an essential element of providing justice for all.”
Six of the county’s seven circuit judge slots are occupied by men. Women claim only four of the 18 total circuit judge seats in McHenry County.
Vonau is campaigning for the seat currently occupied by McHenry County Judge David Gervais. Since 2002, she has been a member of the 22nd Judicial Circuit Family Violence Coordinating Committee and served on the board of directors to bring court-appointed special advocates to McHenry County. The group is staffed by volunteers who provide support to children in abuse and neglect court cases.
Vonau gained her experience both as an assistant state’s attorney and through private practice, and helped organize the first Teen Dating Violence Symposium in McHenry County.
Her opponent, Gervais, was appointed judge in February by the Illinois Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by retired Judge Michael Caldwell. Gervais began his career in 1982 and opened his own Crystal Lake practice, the Law Offices of David R. Gervais, in 1991, according to his campaign site. His experience spans family and criminal law, probate, estate planning, real estate and commercial law. Throughout his career, Gervais also has collaborated with community organizations to help the disabled, poor and those in need of food, housing and legal assistance.
Fourth Subcircuit vacancy
Lifelong McHenry County resident Kimberley Crum Klein will challenge sitting Judge Mark Gerhardt for a Fourth Subcircuit vacancy. Klein, who has worked as a prosecutor, defense attorney and civil litigator, previously had a career in the mortgage industry and spent more than a decade as a stay-at-home mom rearing her three children, according to her campaign website. Klein is the owner of her self-named law firm, and has experience in both criminal and civil law.
Gerhardt first was appointed as an associate judge March 28, 2011. In June, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed Gerhardt to fill the vacancy left by longtime circuit Judge Sharon Prather, who retired July 12. Gerhardt has served both in the family and criminal divisions, and has experience as an assistant state’s attorney in both Cook and McHenry counties. He also practiced as an associate for the law firms of Gummerson and Rausch and Wiejaczka Law.
Additional information about each candidate is available on their respective campaign websites.