URBANA — Champaign County will have a female circuit judge on the bench come Dec. 1 as voters narrowly approved Ramona Sullivan as the Democrat candidate to take on Republican Cherie Kesler for a resident judgeship.

Sullivan, of Savoy, who has been an attorney for 24 years, eked out a win over her closest competitor, Urbana attorney Ruth Wyman,  by 148 votes.

When the final count was revealed about 9:45 p.m., Sullivan had 8,967 votes to Wyman’s 8,819.

“It was really hard work, and I am grateful for each and every vote,” said an ecstatic Sullivan, who watched the returns on a computer at her Savoy home with her husband, Anthony Ortega, and two of her three children.

Both Sullivan and Wyman left their male competitors, Troy Lozar and David Moore, in the dust, outdistancing them by a more than 5-to-1 margin.

Lozar netted 1,707 votes and Moore was a mere eight behind him at 1,699.

Sullivan said with the coronavirus pandemic that has swept Illinois, she did none of the last-minute campaigning she had planned for the homestretch.

“I didn’t talk to voters or host events, but I put hangers on doors. It seemed like the safest way to not risk anyone’s health,” she said. “I’m excited and so grateful.”

The 49-year-old Sullivan ran for a circuitwide judgeship in 2018. She won Champaign County, which swept Democrats into all the countywide offices, but was defeated in the five other counties of the Sixth Circuit by Republican Roger Webber.

A native of Edgar County, Sullivan graduated from the University of Illinois in 1993 and the UI College of Law in 1996. She’s been a legal-aid attorney almost her entire legal career but for a couple of years in private practice. For the past eight years, she’s been an assistant public defender in Champaign County. Prior to that, she worked at Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance in Champaign for about 14 years.

She campaigned on bringing “balance” to the bench, saying Champaign County was long overdue for a judge whose life experience more closely mirrors that of the people coming through the front door. She referred to her own stint as a single mother after being widowed many years ago. And she was also clear that it was time for another woman in a circuit judgeship.

Judge Heidi Ladd, who plans to retire in July, has been the only female circuit judge in Champaign County since 2004.

Ronda Holliman and Anna Benjamin currently serve as associate judges, having been appointed to their posts in August 2015 and December 2017, respectively.

Sullivan applied for both of their jobs, as well as about 10 other open associate and circuit judgeships in the last eight years, but was passed over for appointment.

In a poll of lawyers released last month, she was recommended for office, while both Wyman and Kesler were not recommended for the bench by their colleagues.

Wyman has been an attorney for just under 16 years, with a general practice. She currently has an office in Urbana and has been recognized for her pro bono work. She served on the Urbana City Council for eight years.

Lozar has been an attorney for 23 years and an assistant Champaign County state’s attorney since 2004.

Moore had the most legal experience of the four candidates with 36 years under his belt, all of them in Urbana in a broad-based general practice.

When either Sullivan or Kesler takes the bench, she will be the only elected female judge in Champaign County, earning more than $202,000 annually.

mschenk@news-gazette.com