Appellate Justice Stephen P. McGlynn is hoping to build on the electoral success of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier to become the first Republican elected to the 5th District appellate bench in more than a quarter-century.

Karmeier appointed McGlynn, 43, to the appellate bench last summer to fill the unexpired term of former Justice Gordon Maag, who lost both his Supreme Court race to Karmeier and his bid for retention to the 5th District bench in 2004.

Unopposed in the GOP primary, McGlynn will face either Circuit Judge Bruce Stewart of Harrisburg or Collinsville attorney Bill Berry in the November general election.

McGlynn, a fourth-generation Belleville attorney, said he is running for a full 10-year term on the appellate bench for many of the same reasons that Karmeier sought a Supreme Court seat two years ago.

“We had a system that was out of balance for a long time,” McGlynn said. “Because it was out of balance, doctors and businesses were leaving the area, and industry was looking elsewhere even though the people of southern Illinois offer a fine work force.”

The 5th Appellate District includes both Madison and St. Clair counties in the St. Louis Metro East area. Madison County, in particular, has seen several multimillion dollar awards in civil cases over the past several years. Those awards have been blamed for an exodus of medical professionals from the Metro East area.

“You have a small group of people choosing judges who all share the same special interests which tend to be in favor of claimants, whether the claims are legitimate or not, and very large awards — whether those awards are warranted or not,” McGlynn said.

The judge said his election would maintain a balance on the 5th District bench that did not exist before both he and Justice Stephen Spomer were appointed last year.

“Judges were selected by a very small, elite group of politicians and lawyers,” McGlynn said. “One of the reasons people elected Lloyd Karmeier was they were looking for an authentic agent of change.”

McGlynn said he has already seen signs of that same kind of change during his short tenure on the appellate bench.

“Since I got on the bench, I think I have had an impact along with Justice Spomer,” he said. “I believe we have gone a long way in helping to restore confidence in the courts.”

McGlynn said the group nature of appellate work makes balance even more important.

“You serve with people from different backgrounds and are forced to sit down together and decide tough legal issues,” McGlynn said. “When you have a balanced court, decisions are not made because of a particular special interest, but tend to focus what we can agree on.

“A balanced court tends to reflect more on what unites us.”

McGlynn said Karmeier’s 2004 victory set a precedent that he hopes to emulate in the 5th District race.

“Judge Karmeier proved a good guy can win,” he said. “The prevailing notion over the previous 25 years was that if you did not have the blessing of political elites in the Metro East area, you had no chance of winning.

“People finally said ‘We’ve let your elites pick our judges for too long.’ Justice Karmeier’s victory gives us hope that I can focus on doing the right thing — addressing the needs of citizens within the district.”

While McGlynn received a rating of “not recommended” in a recent Illinois State Bar Association poll of attorneys, he said many of the people who panned him in the poll were politically motivated.

“The foxes have weighed in on who they want to watch the henhouse and they don’t want me,” McGlynn said.

McGlynn, who stopped in Effingham Friday on a swing that was expected to include Lawrenceville, Fairfield, Carmi, Metropolis, Marion and Edwardsville, said he has visited 20 of the 37 counties that comprise the 5th District, and expects to hit all 37 by Memorial Day.

“I’m going everywhere,” he said, adding that he does not support judicial appointment by elected officials. Instead, he supports the current system, through which judges must be elected by voters to serve.

“I prefer the system where judges have to meet citizens and be responsive to the people,” he said. “That’s because we can’t make decisions in a vacuum.

“Another thing this system does in a truly competitive race is force judges to hand down decisions that reflect the common values of southern Illinoisans.”

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

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