Illinois Public Defender Carla Barnes has been appointed the first black woman to serve as circuit judge in Illinois’ 11th judicial court.
The Illinois Judicial court announced the news Tuesday. She fills the vacancy created by Judge Scott Drazewski’s retirement.
“I have been with the public defender’s office for 19 years and serving the indigent clients of McLean County has been a highlight of my career,” Barnes said in a statement. “Now another opportunity has presented itself and I will do my best to serve the residents of the 11th Judicial Circuit.”
This marks Barnes’ second attempt at being appointed to the bench in the circuit that covers McLean, Ford, Livingston, Logan, and Woodford counties.
“I started with the public defense’s office 19 years ago. I have enjoyed serving our clients as I worked my way up from traffic court to major felonies. During my six years as chief public defender, I’ve always said I have the best job in the county,” Barnes said.
On her appointment as a circuit judge, Barnes said, “I’m honored to have been chosen as the first African American female attorney to serve the 11th Judicial Circuit in this capacity. I am honored and proud to hold those titles.”
With Barnes’ appointment, the gender gap of the 11th Judicial Circuit was narrowed to seven male judges and three female judges.
Meghan Leonard, an associate professor of politics and government at Illinois State University, told WGLT.org that it’s a problem through virtually all courts at the state and federal levels.
“What we need is (for) those who are in charge—whether it’s those who are in charge of parties and putting people on ballots, or those who are in charge of nominating—to really buy into and accept the idea that judicial diversity is really important,” Leonard said.
Barnes is an Illinois State University graduate and earned her law degree from Chicago’s John Marshall Law School.
Barnes will serve McLean, Woodford, Logan, Livingston, and Ford Counties. She will be sworn in February 11 and her term will end on December 5, 2022. The vacancy will be filled by the winner of the November 2022 general election.