Judy Cates, Democrat Candidate for Fifth District Appellate Court Judge, stopped by the office of "The Daily Register/Eldorado Daily Journal" Monday afternoon to talk about her campaign and the upcoming election.
Cates grew up in Belleville, where she attended a public high school before going on to receive her bachelor's degree at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. and her law degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.
"My dad had a store on Main Street in Belleville," Cates said. "My mom was a schoolteacher."
When Cates left home to attend college at Cornell, she was surprised to find out her father's small business, which mainly sold women's clothing, had gone bankrupt due to the construction of a new mall in the area.
When her tuition checks began to bounce, Cates said she did what she had to do – she began working as a waitress to support herself. After graduating from Cornell in three years, she came back to Southern Illinois to marry a man who once worked in the shoe department of her father's store, Darrell Cates.
"I married the guy I went to the junior prom with," Cates said with a laugh. "And we're still married."
They have since had three children and recently celebrated the birth of their new granddaughter.
After marrying her high school sweetheart, Cates graduated from Washington University's Law School in two and a half years, taking classes each summer when tuition was lower.
"I do understand tough (financial) times," Cates said, of working her way through college and then law school.
Cates then moved back to Belleville and became an assistant state's attorney in St. Clair County, where she was the first woman in the county to be appointed to a special crimes unit that pursued career criminals who were especially violent.
"That experience really made me want to help people," Cates said, after talking about some of the more violent and memorable cases she prosecuted during that time.
In 1982, Cates went into private practice, where she spent much of her time protecting the rights of injured workers and a variety of other civil cases.
"My experience in the courtroom will make me a better judge because I understand that people are waiting for decisions to be made that affect their lives, so we need to be accountable to those people," Cates said. "People deserve honest and fair judges."
Cates emphasized her belief that politics should have no place in the courtroom and that judicial candidates should not run with an agenda. She said the Illinois State Bar Association rated Cates "highly qualified" for the position and gave her a 94-percent rating on her legal abilities.
Page 2 of 2 - Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg, who has known Cates for some time, recently wrote a letter endorsing her in the race and took some time out to catch up with her while she was in Harrisburg Monday.
"Judy is not being influenced by special interest groups, nor does she have an agenda, other than doing what she feels is right for the people of Illinois," read Gregg's endorsement letter to Harrisburg voters. "I strongly urge you to vote for Judy Cates on November 6, because I feel she will be there for all the citizens of Southern Illinois."
Cates has also been endorsed by State's Attorney Mike Henshaw.
"I have spent my career fighting for victims of crime and wrong doing," Cates said in prepared release regarding her recent endorsements. "I am proud and honored that so many of my colleagues who do the same thing everyday on behalf of the people of Southern Illinois are supporting me. As a judge, I am prepared to make the tough decisions that are necessary to keep our neighborhoods free of criminal activity."
The Fifth District Appellate Court is located in Mt. Vernon, and covers the southernmost 37 counties in Illinois. Cates will appear on the General Election ballot Nov. 6.