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McFarland sees circuit judge post as the 'next step in leadership' as she announces her campaign

Kevin Fitzgerald and Amy McFarland.jpg
Eric Stock
Retired judge Kevin Fitzgerald applauds as Amy McFarland prepares to deliver remarks during her campaign announcement for circuit judge on Tuesday.

A McLean County judge said she would like to continue her role in overseeing family courts and presiding over the county’s recovery court as she seeks an elected seat on the bench.

McLean County associate judge Amy McFarland officially announced her candidacy for a circuit judge seat for the 11th Judicial Circuit in 2022 at a news conference Tuesday outside the McLean County Museum of History in downtown Bloomington. McLean County Circuit Judge Paul Lawrence announced Monday he plans to retire at the end of the year after nearly 20 years on the bench.

"An opportunity has arisen for me to take the next step as it relates to leadership within our local courts," McFarland said.

McFarland will be seeking the Republican nomination. McLean County State’s Attorney Don Knapp, also a Republican, is expected to announce his campaign for circuit judge on Thursday.

Amy McFarland
Eric Stock
Amy McFarland

The 11th judicial circuit includes McLean, Ford, Livingston, Logan and Woodford counties.

McFarland has served as the McLean County court’s presiding judge over the family division, a role typically given to circuit judges. She said she has helped modernize operations by making court proceedings paperless, while also streamlining communications with other court departments and training judges, but she added it would be “helpful” to have the circuit judge distinction while serving in that role.

“Judges are all my peers. There’s not a hierarchy so to speak as it relates to judges, so you really to have to influence people not manage people,” McFarland said.

Retired Chief Judge Kevin Fitzgerald, who introduced McFarland at her campaign announcement, said helping select her as an associate judge in 2016 and later putting her in charge of the court’s family division were two of the best decisions he ever made from the bench.

“I think if you ask any lawyer who practices in family law (about) the state of the family law division in McLean County, they will say it is the strongest it has ever been and Amy (deserves) a lot of credit for that,” Fitzgerald said.

McFarland said she has found recovery court to be her “passion,” by helping her understand the needs of people who have mental illness. Recovery court, which the county began in 2010, offers treatment options for offenders who are convicted of non-violent crimes and complete the program. “It’s an opportunity to see people become their best while avoiding prison,” McFarland said.

The Illinois Supreme Court appointed McFarland to a statewide COVID task force last year. She said it was important that courts establish a flexible system that can adapt to changing pandemic protocols through a hybrid of virtual and in-person court hearings and trials.


McFarland referred to Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female U.S. Supreme Court justice, as her hero and an inspiration to become a judge. Judgesare still predominantly male in McLean County. Currently only three of the 10 circuit judges in the 11th Judicial Circuit are women.

McFarland said she credits female judges who have preceded her for laying a foundation for women who are seizing the opportunity.

“We are starting to see more diverse candidates applying for judgeships. I think that the ability to elevate women, the women that we have has been tremendous and the support and mentorship,” McFarland said. “There’s a willingness and an open mindedness that now is the time to take those steps forward.”

McFarland is an Illinois State University graduate and was a practicing attorney for 16 years before she joined the bench.

The primary election will be held June 28, 2022; the general election is set for Nov. 8, 2022.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.