June 13, 2024

politics of law

Politics and Law

Mendenhall gets Republican nod for judge | Local

16 min read

DECATUR — Republican primary election voters on Tuesday picked challenger Shane Mendenhall as their choice for judge in the 6th Judicial Circuit, handing him a convincing win over Associate Judge Rodney Forbes.

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That sets the stage for a November general election contest between Mendenhall and fellow Decatur-based attorney Andrew Weatherford, who had no primary challenger in his bid for the judge’s robe.

Mendenhall received 6,830 votes Tuesday compared to Forbes’ total of 4,388. 

“I am feeling great, yes sir,” said Mendenhall when asked his reaction to Tuesday’s victory. “We had a great team effort with everybody working hard and just getting out there and knocking on doors and talking to people; and I think the people of Macon County as a whole are awake and ready for some change.”

The Republican primary campaign between Forbes, a sitting associate judge who had been appointed to the bench by his fellow elected judges in 2017, and Mendenhall, a Decatur attorney in civil practice, had been surprisingly lively and hard-fought.

Illinois Supreme Court rules forbid candidates in judge’s races from voicing views on any issue that might come before them in court, which is pretty much any issue.

But Forbes, 56, and the 42-year-old Mendenhall found room to clash over what became the central issue in their campaigns: just who is better qualified to be chosen as judge.

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Voters decided that the argument of 56-year-old Forbes — that to be a judge, it helps if you have some experience — wasn’t convincing beyond a reasonable doubt. A former chief public defender before his appointment, Forbes had also pointed out that a poll among members of the Illinois State Bar Association had given him the stamp of “recommended” for keeping the judge’s gavel. 

More support came from leading members of the Central Illinois legal establishment. Forbes’ campaign was chaired by retired Macon County Circuit Court Presiding Judge A.G. Webber, who said no one was better qualified to deserve the nod from voters than Forbes.

Mendenhall, however, had pleaded that judges choosing judges was just what the electorate didn’t need or want. A partner with Bolen, Robinson and Ells LLP, the attorney argued that it was time for a fresh face and fresh perspective as a judge; and jurists are not not required to have experience as a judge to run for election.

“I think we need a judge who is going to protect the law-abiding citizens and the victims in this community,” he had said.

Speaking Tuesday night, he added: “It’s been over 20 years since Macon County had an opportunity to elect a judge instead of a judge essentially becoming a circuit judge by default. I think voters were ready to make that choice and that is why we have the system we have.”

Forbes accepted the result graciously Tuesday and said he had run a solid campaign. “I had a lot of supporters and made a lot of friends along the way,” he said. “I just hand it to my opponent that he ran a strong and well-organized campaign and, in the event he wins in the general election, I look forward to working with him on the bench.”

Weatherford, his Democratic challenger, also has no prior experience of serving as a judge but has both an extensive civil and criminal law track history as a partner with the legal firm Johnson, Chiligiris & Weatherford.

Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid