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McLean County State’s Attorney Don Knapp announces run for judge

Accompanied by some members of the law enforcement, legal, business, and political community, State's Attorney Don Knapp announced his candidacy for McLean County Circuit Judge.
Charlie Schlenker
Accompanied by members of the law enforcement, legal, business, and political community, State's Attorney Don Knapp announced his candidacy for McLean County circuit Judge on Thursday.

McLean County State's Attorney Don Knapp announced Thursday he is running for circuit judge next year as a Republican.

Knapp has not only served as McLean County’s top prosecutor, but before that he ran the civil division of the office under Jason Chambers, now a judge. He also worked as a lawyer at State Farm, and Knapp said he spent 12 years as an elbow clerk at the appellate level, a statutorily created position writing opinions for appeals court judges.

Knapp’s opponent in the GOP primary will be Associate Judge Amy McFarland, who announced her candidacy earlier this week. There are not many women on the bench in central Illinois. Knapp said judicial diversity is important, but it also can mean diversity of experience.

“You know when you are the civil lawyer for the county of McLean you deal with a nursing home issue one day, a dog bite issue the next day, a criminal issue the next day, and sometimes that's just the first two hours, to elections to jails to everything,” said Knapp.

He cited his appellate work writing opinions and orders on both criminal and civil matters, and noted he tried a pedophile case two weeks ago and wrote a lot of the language in the development agreements that brought Brandt Industries and Rivian to town.

“From growing up in Goodfield outside a town of 400 people, to one of the offices I held at State Farm was in the middle of the Robert Taylor homes when they were still standing. I think you are going to have a hard time finding another lawyer who has the diverse background of me in the law,” said Knapp.

The son of a police chief, and surrounded by members of the law enforcement community, Knapp made his announcement at Union Park that is owned by the Bloomington Police Union. It is common for prosecutors to gather support from police officers when seeking office, though that is not always a truism.

“I am probably the only state’s attorney … that has had one stuffed animal thrown (at him) in anger during a murder briefing,” said Knapp.

For decades, the career arc for judges in McLean County often ran from private practice to public defender or prosecutor, then appointment to an associate judge position, and finally a wait until a retirement opened an elected circuit seat — at first, by appointment. That is not always the case. Charles Reynard ran for judge from the prosecutor’s office. Knapp would be another exception to a sometimes-clubby atmosphere, a fact that does not bother him.

“When Paul Lawrence retires, we will not have a circuit judge elected in all five counties that went through an election because of that process,” said Knapp. “Somebody appoints a judge and then you are anointed circuit judge and never get a contest. Paul Lawrence is the last person that the voters had a chance to decide themselves.”

Knapp noted politics likely enters into judicial selection no matter the system. He cited Missouri’s judicial commission that appoints judges and observed that state’s governor appoints the members of the commission.

Knapp said he hears Judge McFarland is a great judge, but will let voters compare his qualifications to hers.

“These opportunities don’t come up that often,” he said.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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