Two seek six-year term on St. Clair County bench

ST. CLAIR COUNTY — Two names will appear on the non-partisan section of county ballots for a 72nd District Court Judge seat.

The candidates include current officeholder Judge Mona Armstrong and challenger Caryn VanderHeuvel.

Armstrong was appointed to the seat through the end of the year when Judge Cynthia Platzer retired from the bench in late 2019. Now Armstrong is seeking a new, full six-year term.

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Prior to becoming judge, Armstrong spent more than two decades as a prosecuting attorney in St. Clair County where she tried more than 150 jury cases.

“As a prosecutor, I specialized in cases involving the protection of vulnerable victims and was responsible for complex cases involving numerous capital cases ranging from homicide, Major Crimes, Special Victim & Child Victim cases,” Armstrong said.

Additionally she worked as a law clerk in St. Clair County Circuit Court and served as adjunct faculty for the Criminal Justice Department at St. Clair County Community College.

She believes her record, professional background and extensive community involvement can help voters understand her values.

“Throughout my career, I have held a deep and abiding commitment to the pursuit of justice in St. Clair County, to improving our community, and to helping families,” Armstrong said.

As a sitting judge, her top concerns are to “see that justice is served” in all cases and that the court operates as efficiently and transparently as possible.

“The people of our community are entitled to know what is happening in our courts, and that we, as judges, are responsible to use resources in a manner that brings about the greatest benefit to the community,” she said.

Another of her priorities in office is to consistently explore options for better serving the community.

“I have never been someone who felt comfortable with the notion, ‘…we do it that way because that is the way it has always been done,’” she said.

She believes technology and other aids could be used to help the public more easily conduct their business with the court.

“I am honored and privileged to serve St. Clair County as a Judge of the 72nd District Court. In this role, I approach every case fairly and impartially, and with the knowledge that comes from years of experience in seeking justice on behalf of the citizens of our community,” Armstrong said.

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VanderHeuvel said she never planned to seek public office but upon working in the legal system in St. Clair County for the last 22 years, she’s seen the difference that a fair and effective judge can make in the lives of its citizens.

“I decided to run for District Court Judge because I believe the people of St. Clair County deserve a judge who can be fair and impartial in both criminal and civil cases,” she said.

VanderHeuvel was already making plans to seek the seat when Platzer announced her early retirement and her eventual opponent, Armstrong, was subsequently appointed to the bench.

“I chose to continue my campaign because I believe it is vitally important that the voters of St. Clair County have a choice,” VanderHeuvel said.

She currently works as an attorney referee for the county’s Friend of the Court. She also served as research attorney for Judge Peter Deegan.

“I am the only candidate with more than ten years of experience making impartial decisions,” she said referencing the thousands of hearings she’s presided over as an attorney referee.

As a district judge, VanderHeuvel said the issues she would like to address include the expansion of problem solving courts and the exploration of alternatives to incarceration.

“The recently formed Recovery Court program in District Court has a very limited number of openings and I think the reality is that many more people in the court system are experiencing substance use and addiction issues than the Courts have recognized in the past. If the underlying issue is not addressed, these individuals continue the behavior that brought them into the system in the first place,” she said.

In the case of non-violent offenders, VanderHeuvel believes that incarceration is not always appropriate for either the individual or taxpayers.

“As a FOC Referee, I have seen many people who lost their housing, their employment and their Social Security benefits due to even short periods of incarceration. An effective judge will consider other options to benefit the person and the community,” she added.

Additionally, VanderHeuvel believes some of the protocols the courts adopted recently due to the pandemic, like remote hearings and employees working remotely, could be adopted in the long term to boost efficiency and cost savings.