La Salle County judge Hettel named to appeals court

Former state’s attorney replaces Lytton, retiring after 30 years

A La Salle County judge is cleaning out his chambers and moving a few blocks from the downtown Ottawa courthouse to the appeals court.

Circuit Joseph P. Hettel was appointed Tuesday to the Third District Appellate Court, replacing retiring Justice Tom Lytton. The appointment, announced by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Carter, is effective July 1. To keep his appointed seat, Hettel must run and win in 2024. The ballot will appear in seven counties including La Salle, Bureau and Grundy counties.

“I am honored and humbled by this appointment and I will do my best to serve the citizens of the Third District in the manner they are accustomed after 30 years of service by Justice Lytton,” Hettel said. “I want to thank Justice Carter and the members of the Illinois Supreme Court for their confidence in me.”

Hettel, 54, served as La Salle County state’s attorney from 2000 until his appointment to the bench in December 2006, replacing Carter after the latter’s appointment to the appeals court.

Hettel is an Ottawa native who graduated Marquette High School in 1985 and made the University of Iowa football team as a walk-on, traveling with the Hawkeyes to Pasadena for the 1986 Rose Bowl. He completed his undergraduate studies at Illinois State University and then earned his law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law.

After completing his legal studies he worked as an assistant state’s attorney in Cook County under Jack O’Malley and in La Salle County under Joe Navarro before entering private practice.

“He’s practiced in a wide range so I’m quite sure he’s capable of fulfilling the position on the appellate court,” Navarro said.

“It’s always nice to have a colleague be promoted to the appellate court,” said Judge Cynthia M. Raccuglia, who’s served on the bench with Hettel nearly 16 years. “I’m excited for him and he will do a good job.”

Hettel’s appointment means there will be two circuit judgeships up for grabs in the next two elections. This fall, voters will decide between La Salle County Judge Christina M. Cantlin, a Democratic appointee, and Republican challenger Jason Helland, state’s attorney in Grundy County. Hettel’s vacant seat will be filled by appointment until the 2024 elections.

In the Tuesday press release, Carter praised Lytton for his 30 years service on the appeals court. Prior to that, Lytton had been in private practice and also served as a special assistant attorney general for the Illinois Office of the Attorney General.

“Every Illinois citizen has benefited from the service of Justice Tom Lytton on the Third District Appellate Court,” Carter said. “He is a role model for all judges in the state.”

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my 30 years as a justice for the Third District Appellate Court, from handing down decisions to the daily interactions with my staff,” Lytton said. “Every aspect of my position has been rewarding and it has been an honor to serve the State of Illinois.”