Appellate Justice Overstreet Set To Take Seat In Ill. High Court

Law360 (November 4, 2020, 3:12 AM EST) -- Southern Illinois voters on Tuesday elected appellate Justice David Overstreet, who's served as an intermediate appellate judge since 2017, to fill a state Supreme Court seat that will become open once Justice Lloyd Karmeier retires in December.

Justice Overstreet, who serves in the fifth appellate district, secured his election to the Illinois Supreme Court after campaigning on a desire to build on the court's accessibility and efficiency. With more than 94% of precincts reporting, he claimed roughly 63% of the vote to best Justice Judy Cates, who'd secured about 37% of the vote.

Illinois voters also elected not to retain state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride for his third 10-year term, and they officially slated high court Justice P. Scott Neville Jr. to the bench after he'd secured his unopposed spot on the ballot during the March primary. Voters also elected a Republican judge to the bench in the only other contested state appellate race on the ballot.

In a statement Tuesday, Justice Kilbride said he was "disappointed in the apparent outcome."

"I want to thank the voters of the Third Judicial District for twice placing their faith in me to uphold the sacred principles that guide our judicial system. Serving on the Illinois Supreme Court has been the honor and privilege of my lifetime, and I am proud of the legacy I will leave behind, including a court that is more open, transparent and accessible to all, regardless of economic means," Kilbride said.

Although little will change about the makeup of Illinois' intermediate appellate courts, Justice Overstreet's election and Justice Kilbride's apparent retention loss add to a stream of turnover that has been uncommon for the state high court, Illinois Appellate Lawyers Association President John Fitzgerald of Tabet DiVito & Rothstein LLC told Law360. And while elections always bring the potential for change, "there's always a certain amount of risk when you're talking about an institution where stability and continuity are highly valued," he said.

"We normally value having a certain amount of predictability and continuity in our legal system, and electing judges adds a certain amount of inherent uncertainty in the process," Fitzgerald said. "Whether that type of inherent uncertainty benefits the people or not remains a matter of some debate."

Justice Overstreet told Law360 in October that he'd continue to promote the Supreme Court's strategic agenda if he was elected. Justice Overstreet served on the committee that established the agenda, which outlines the court's commitment to improving fairness, enhancing efficiencies and building confidence in the state courts through 2022.

Justice Overstreet also said he wants to continue promoting easier access to the courts, and that he'd like to continue exploring the use of technology for more remote court appearances — although the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly accelerated that initiative.

Justice Cates, his opponent, has served as a fifth district appellate judge since 2012. Fueled in part by long-running allegations that Justice Karmeier's influence on the Supreme Court bench could be bought, Justice Cates aimed to bring change and increased transparency to a court that she said "has aged and lost touch with people."

Southern Illinois was also home to the state's only contested appellate court race. Appellate Court Justice Mark Boie appears set to take that open seat in the fifth appellate district after securing about 60% of the vote, according to unofficial results with more than 94% precincts reporting as of Tuesday night.

Justice Boie, the Republican candidate, was assigned to serve in the fifth appellate district in May 2019. He was elected resident circuit judge of Union County in 2000, and voters retained him in that position in 2006, 2012 and 2018. He received his law degree from The John Marshall Law School and ran a general civil law practice with his father until his appointment to the bench in 2000.

He defeats Judge Sarah Smith, who ran as a Democrat and was appointed in 2015 to serve as a judge in the third judicial circuit, which includes Bond and Madison Counties, later elected to the seat in 2018.

--Editing by Pamela Wilkinson.

Correction: An earlier story referenced an incorrect election winner. The error has been corrected.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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