With the recent death of Shelby County's resident circuit court judge, a special filing period has been set to start Dec. 18 for candidates who would like to fill the vacancy.

Shelby County State's Attorney Gina Vonderheide, Associate Judge Amanda Ade-Harlow, and attorney Dennis Atteberry have already announced that they will run for the seat.

Those close to the late Allen Bennett said he planned to file for retention with the Illinois State Board of Elections before the May deadline. If he did file, he would've been retained for another six-year term had he gotten a 'yes' vote from at least 60 percent of voters. His death puts his resident judge position up for likely contests in the next primary and general election.

Vonderheide, running as a Democrat, has spent the past five years as Shelby County's state's attorney. The lifelong Shelby County resident is proud of the drug court program she's overseen.

"As state's attorney, I have expanded our drug court program, which reduces recidivism and drug crimes in our communities and teaches people who are addicted to drugs how to live as productive members of society," Vonderheide said.

As the county's prosecutor, she said she has sought justice, not just punishments.

"Certainly, we want to punish certain crimes," Vonderheide said. "But sometimes it's worth a lesser punishment in less sever cases."

If she were elected judge, she'd like to be known as "someone who's fair," "decides the cases based on facts," and as "someone who stands up for what's right."

"I have tried my hardest to keep justice at the forefront of my office as state's attorney and I would bring that sense of fairness and even temperament to the bench," Vondeheide said. "Judge Allen Bennett served Shelby County so well and he leaves big shoes to fill. I would be honored to join the wonderful group of judges in the Fourth Judicial Circuit."

Ade-Harlow, running as a Republican, was appointed an associate judge a year ago after a selection process with judges in the Fourth Judicial Circuit.

She's previously held positions as the Shelby County public defender and as assistant state's attorney in both Fayette and Shelby counties.

After she was appointed as the public defender in 2015, Bennett said Ade-Harlow was "up to the task at hand; I have seen her up close as a prosecutor and defense attorney and her talents and expertise in these areas are well-known throughout the nine counties of the Fourth Judicial Circuit."

Ade-Harlow, of rural Moweaqua, has also worked in a private general practice in Taylorville, handling family law, criminal defense, municipal law, personal injury, and medical malpractice.

She too sees Bennett as a model for how the resident judge position should be managed. Making the announcement after his recent passing wasn't an easy one.

"I am honored to make this announcement, yet saddened," Ade-Harlow said. "Judge Bennett was a wonderful colleague and friend, such a generous and kind person. It would be an honor to continue to serve Shelby County with the same graciousness and commitment as Judge Bennett."

Dennis Atteberry, running as a Republican, says he's distinguished from other judge candidates because of his extensive experience in the appellate court.

"This includes successfully expanding privacy rights in Burns Jr. v. Masterbrand Cabinets," Atteberry said. "The Burns decision made it unlawful for someone to enter your home on false pretenses to do surveillance for an insurance company.

"Appellate experience is important because it requires the decision being made by a judge to be bound by law and constitution, fair and impartial and sound."

The Shelbyville resident has practiced juvenile, criminal, civil, municipal, and probate law during his 16-year legal career.

Atteberry also cites his work ethic as a notable quality. Before he became an attorney, he had held at least two jobs since he was 14 years old. He's been a teacher, church youth director, Elder, and member of local groups fighting for education and public safety.

Stan Polanski can be reached at stan.polanski@shelbyvilledailyunion.com or 217-774-2161 ext. 1.

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