Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

June 17, 2013

Judge not to reappoint longtime public defender

Bill Grimes
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — Longtime Effingham County Public Defender Lupita Thompson has been told she will lose her job after 16 years.

Both Thompson and Fourth Judicial Circuit Resident Judge for Effingham County Kimberly Koester confirmed Monday Thompson will not be reappointed public defender. Koester said, however, her decision was not official until a majority of the other Fourth Circuit judges voted to confirm it.

Thompson decried how Koester informed her of her decision Friday shortly after the funeral of Assistant Public Defender Janet Fowler's daughter.

"Koester showed her true colors when after a tragic week, I got a call from her saying that it was totally her decision to fire me," Thompson said.

Thompson had been the county's chief public defender since 1997. Monday, retired Associate Judge James Harvey told the Effingham County Board Thompson's removal was unjustified and could potentially cost the county thousands of dollars a year in translation fees.

Thompson, who is fluent in Spanish, routinely translated court proceedings for her Spanish-speaking clients.

"I was flabbergasted that she (Koester) would even think of replacing Lupita," Harvey said. "Nobody has been given a reason."

While Koester declined further comment Monday, she told the Effingham Daily News last month that any decision she makes had nothing to do with the way Thompson did her job.

"It's just with the salary and responsibilities of the job, we have a responsibility to find the best possible person for the office," Koester said. The job pays about $149,000 per year.

Koester has also said she did not advertise the position for political reasons. The judge is a Republican, while Thompson is a Democrat.

While County Board Chairman Jim Niemann said the board had no authority to influence Koester's decision, he said he wrote the judge a letter supporting Thompson's reappointment.

"What I know of her professionally, she has always done a good job," said Niemann, a former Effingham police officer. "But I'm not aware of the other side of the coin. Obviously, a judge's concerns might be different than mine."

Thompson's contract expires June 30. Koester said Monday that no replacement had been named, nor could it be until the other circuit judges agree to her decision.

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com.