#childsafety | McHenry County voters to elect judges to three vacancies

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McHenry County voters have the rare chance to elect three judges to the 22nd Judicial Circuit.

Each of the county’s sitting circuit judges first was appointed to the position by the Illinois Supreme Court rather than being elected directly into office by voters. This year, McHenry County is home to three contested judicial races, each with male and female candidates.

Running for one of the county’s three judicial vacancies are Elizabeth “Beth” Vonau, D-Crystal Lake; David Gervais, R-Crystal Lake; Jeannie Ridings, D-Crystal Lake; Justin Hansen, R-Crystal Lake; Kimberly Crum Klein, D-Lake in the Hills; and Mark Gerhardt, R-Lakewood.

Caldwell vacancy

Sitting Judge David Gervais and his opponent, Elizabeth “Beth” Vonau, both are campaigning to fill the vacancy left by retired McHenry County Judge Michael Caldwell.

Gervais was appointed a judge in February 2018 to fill the vacancy left by Caldwell. 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 those who are disabled, poor or in need of food, housing and legal assistance, he said.

“As an attorney for over 35 years, I tried cases in every courtroom in the county,” Gervais said in response to a Northwest Herald questionnaire. “Now as an experienced judge I have presided over many different types of cases. That experience ensures fair legal decisions for all who seek justice.”

His opponent, Vonau, is a longtime 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.

“I was raised in an environment where service to community was normal and expected. It framed my philosophy of what makes a good human – work hard and take care of the people around you,” Vonau said in response to the questionnaire. “I am running for judge because I am devoted to equal justice for all. I have the courage to do what the law requires and the integrity to not be influenced by race, gender, wealth, power or politics.”

Both candidates agree that challenges facing the 22nd Judicial Circuit include matters of accessibility and the delicate but sometimes unavoidable situations that arise when parents must bring their children to the courthouse with them.

“When self-represented litigants come before me, it is usually because they simply cannot afford a lawyer,” Gervais said. “I explain to these litigants as much as I can without giving legal advice, and I let them know that I will listen to them and answer questions as much as I can.”

Gervais also is spearheading a waiting area specifically dedicated to children, he said.

Vonau similarly has advocated for a child care room to help children avoid hearing testimony in divorce cases, and she has called for improved transparency in the judicial appointment process.

“The people of McHenry County should know that each judge has been fully vetted with an open application process, an opportunity for public comment and a clear process for selection,” Vonau said. “There can be no room for politics in the courtroom.”

3rd subcircuit vacancy

Sitting Judge Justin Hansen took office in February 2019 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 both a prosecutor and special public defender, and he helped implement virtual court hearings after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“Serving as a judge is an incredible responsibility. This isn’t a position for politicians or activists looking for an easy job and a cushy pension,” Hansen said in response to the questionnaire. “The judiciary and judicial elections should not be an invitation to advance agendas, issues or selfish ambition over important qualities like integrity, humility and dedication to the community.”

Challenging Hansen is Democratic candidate and local Crystal Lake attorney Jeannie Ridings. In 2016, Ridings received the “Peace and Justice Award” for her representation of victims of domestic violence. Throughout her career, Ridings has made an effort to help “real people with real problems,” she said, adding that her election would bring diversity to the local judiciary.

“Our judiciary should reflect the diversity of our legal community such that its power is distributed across populations, not consolidated within a single race, gender or party, as is now the case in McHenry County,” Ridings said in response to the questionnaire.

If elected, both Hansen and Ridings have vowed to treat residents fairly across the board.

“We cannot expect our community to respect the law when it sees that the law does not respect them and, worse, excludes them,” Ridings said. “The rule of law only works when it applies to everyone equally.”

Hansen said he has made a concerted effort to “apply the law fairly and justly,” relying on the belief that “integrity is more important than politics.”

“Everyone is treated with patience and respect, and I ensure that all parties, including unrepresented parties, have their ‘day in court,’” Hansen said.

4th subcircuit vacancy

McHenry County Judge Mark Gerhardt first was appointed as an associate judge in March 2011. In June 2019, the Illinois Supreme Court appointed Gerhardt to fill the vacancy left by longtime and now retired Circuit Judge Sharon Prather.

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.

“I bring nearly 25 years of legal experience, over nine of which are as a judge,” Gerhardt said. “My opponent has 10 years [of] legal experience, none as a judge.”

It’s those differences in career experience, however, that Kimberly Crum Klein said would only add value.

“My extensive work experience outside of the legal industry gives me a depth of experience that will be invaluable in the courtroom,” Crum Klein said. “I have worked in the mortgage industry as a loan officer and as a mortgage credit reporting sales manager. I was a stay-at-home mom raising my three children for over a decade.”

Crum Klein also has worked as a prosecutor, defense attorney and civil litigator, according to her campaign website.

In terms of challenges currently facing McHenry County’s courts, Gerhardt emphasized the need to “protect equal justice in the face of a pandemic” and “to keep the judiciary free from political influence.”

“I do not rule in a case based on whether a law was authored by a certain party or certain individual,” Gerhardt said. “I am not asking anyone to vote for me based on my party affiliation, race, gender or anything other than my experience, qualifications and ability.”

Courts throughout the country, Crum Klein said, should strive for criminal justice reform that addresses the treatment of issues that contribute to the commission of crimes.

“Sentences that punish criminals for breaking the law are necessary for law enforcement and public safety in our society, but judges also must take into account the need for things like mental health counseling, domestic violence counseling and diversion programs, and substance abuse treatment,” Crum Klein said.

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