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CHARLESTON — Coles County Associate Judge Brien O’Brien will begin duties as circuit judge before the November election, as he’s been appointed to the position for the remainder of his predecessor’s term.

The Illinois Supreme Court made the appointment last week. O’Brien will serve as circuit judge from July 1 until the term of the person elected to the position, likely O’Brien himself, begins on Dec. 3.

O’Brien said he feels “very fortunate” that the Supreme Court appointed him to fill the uncompleted term. He also said he thinks the appointment was designed to help with the selection of the person who will fill the associate judge’s position he has now, as associate judges are appointed by circuit judges.

“We want to get things moving toward appointing the new associate judge,” O’Brien said.

The currency vacancy was created because former Circuit Judge Gary Jacobs retired before his term ended. O’Brien won an uncontested race in the March primary for the Republican nomination for the position and no other candidate from any other party ran in the primary.

With other offices, political parties have about three months after the primary to name candidates to fill ballot vacancies, and, for this year’s election, that deadline is Monday. But whether that applies to circuit judge races isn’t entirely clear and O’Brien said he’s handling his campaign as if there’s still a chance he might have an opponent in November.

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O’Brien said he spoke with a representative of the Illinois State Board of Elections about the matter. He said he was told the issue appears to be “open to interpretation” and probably wouldn’t be entirely clear unless it was tested in court.

Coles County Clerk Sue Rennels said there had been no ballot vacancies filled for the November election as of Tuesday. O’Brien is running for what’s called a “resident” judge’s position, which will be elected only by Coles County voters instead of in the entire five-county judicial circuit.

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The positions of circuit judge and associate judge differ only slightly, as associate judges can’t handle felony cases unless they’re appointed to do so by the state Supreme Court. O’Brien said he’s already received that appointment.

O’Brien has been an associate judge for seven years and currently handles Coles County’s traffic, small claims and smaller lawsuit cases, some medical malpractice lawsuits and Mattoon city ordinance violation cases. Coles County judges rotate assignments and O’Brien said he’ll be handling family case law once he joins that schedule, probably around the first of next year.

Contact Fopay at dfopay@jg-tc.com or 238-6858.

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