The judicial robes fit well enough, but newly-sworn Judge Todd Martin laughed as he tugged fruitlessly at the zipper.
“Well, starting off with a zipper that doesn’t work, hopefully it gets better from here,” Martin quipped at his Tuesday installation at the downtown Ottawa courthouse.
“Thank you very much for the opportunity to serve here,” Martin told his fellow justices and judges. “I’m immensely grateful (and) if I can do half as good a job as you have done, I’ll consider it a success.”
His admiring colleagues assured him he will. Judge Michael C. Jansz said he worked with Martin nearly a decade in private practice — and, previously, at opposing tables in court — and came away impressed with Martin’s intelligence, work ethic and, above all, his well-grounded nature.
“Everyone who knows Todd can tell you about his humility,” Jansz said.
The newest judge in La Salle County Circuit Court will be familiar to most voters, having served as state’s attorney for the past 2½ years. Martin said he was humbled when, in May, the Supreme Court tabbed him to replace Judge Joseph P. Hettel, now a justice on the Third District Appellate Court.
Hettel said he was confident Martin would make a seamless transition from the prosecutor’s office to the bench — a trajectory Hettel himself took after leaving the state’s attorney’s office to become a judge in 2006.
“I can’t think of anyone more prepared for the job,” Hettel said. “Todd has represented defendants and plaintiffs in civil cases, prosecuted and defended criminal cases, represented county and municipal government and run his own private practice.
“If you look at the background of his predecessors — including myself — I don’t think you will find anyone more qualified.”
Martin is a Mendota native who gravitated to the law while studying at Illinois Valley Community College. He earned his bachelor of arts from Southern Illinois University and received his juris doctor from the Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
Martin joined the state’s attorney’s office under Joe Navarro, which is ironic because Navarro has just replaced him as state’s attorney. Earlier Tuesday, the La Salle County Board installed Navarro to complete Martin’s unexpired term, lapsing in 2024.
Martin might be going to the civil division in Ottawa’s downtown courthouse, but he’ll be a duty judge tasked with setting bond on Sunday and holiday courts. He has extensive experience in both criminal and civil matters, having logged time in private practice and in a solo practice in Mendota.
Prior to his election as state’s attorney in 2020, Martin had served in that office as chief deputy state’s attorney, county attorney and assistant state’s attorney.
Brian Towne spent 10 years as state’s attorney and one of his very first hires was Martin, whom he asked to head the felony division.
“I cannot think of a more fair, balanced and intelligent addition to the La Salle County bench,” Towne said, “and I couldn’t be happier for him and his family.”