CHAMPAIGN — People shuffle in and out of the court; logistical decisions are made and cases are settled. These are nerve wracking moments for community members — some don’t have a lawyer and few have a law degree.
In the Sixth Circuit court, there are no jury members — only a judge presides over matters big and small.
Circuit judge elections don’t receive much attention, despite touching the lives of so many in a community.
A Champaign County resident judge race features a first-time incumbent, Sixth Circuit Judge Sam Limentato, a Republican, and long-time lawyer Chad Beckett, a Democrat.
Limentato was appointed in 2020 by a bipartisan committee led by former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman.
“Something that Justice Garman told me… (is) you can only make two promises, which is to work diligently, and to apply the law fairly and equally to each person,” Limentato said.
Limentato focuses on family law, cases involving marriage, divorce, adoption, and other personal issues. If Beckett is elected, he would likely take on the same issues.
Beckett called himself a “local son of Champaign County.” Limentato is originally from Chicago, but has spent many years in the Champaign County area. Both Beckett and Limentato studied law at the University of Illinois, and see their local ties as informing their work.
“We are not generally allowed to draw distinctions between ourselves and our opponent. So, I can’t really tell you I’m better than Sam, other than to say that I think that I am the best candidate. I can say I’m the best candidate,” Beckett said, citing Rule 67, Canon 7 of the Illinois Code of Judicial Conduct.
Beckett lost a judicial election in 2018 to Randy Rosenbaum, who’s now Chief Judge of the Sixth Circuit. However, Beckett did win the majority of votes in Champaign County in that multi-county contest. Only Champaign County voters will cast ballots in this year’s resident judge election.
The Illinois State Bar Association in 2022 recommended Limentato and Beckett for the role, though Limentato scored higher in all categories, ranging from integrity to temperament.
Limentato said his Republican party affiliation doesn’t impact his judicial philosophy. “I have to rule on everyone’s case, regardless of their affiliation,” he said.
Limentato even noted that if it was easier to run as an independent, he would’ve opted for that route.
Beckett agreed, saying he would rule based on established law.
“I think that the values of my party are important, but they are a secondary concern to dispensing justice equally and fairly under the law…I enjoy helping people, I enjoy solving problems, I enjoy addressing disputes peacefully, and according to the law.”
Tom Kacich, columnist at The News-Gazette, said this is “the most visible Champaign County election race so far this year.”
According to Kacich, Limentato’s campaign reported $71,508 on hand at the end of June, while Beckett reported $4.52 on hand with certain expenditures totaling $425.
Harrison Malkin is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow him @HarrisonMalkin