Thomas Keith will retire in March as Tazewell County’s felony court judge, an assignment he began with the new year.
Keith, 67, will formally retire on March 30 but serve his last day on the bench March 9, he said.
He will close his work history that took unique turns toward the legal career he began in his mid-40s and which produced his first judicial assignment five years ago.
A Limestone High School graduate, Keith followed twin pursuits as a Stark County farmer and electrician. Seeking more in life, he entered college to obtain a minister’s degree but switched to law studies. A post-graduate internship with a federal judge preceded 19 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Peoria, where he specialized in the new field of cyber-crime prosecution.
The Illinois Supreme Court in 2013 appointed Keith to fill a vacancy as presiding circuit court judge for Stark County, one of five counties with Tazewell in the 10th Judicial Circuit. He was elected to his own six-year term the next year.
“I never really did anything that I had planned my whole life,” Keith, known for his affability, joked Friday. “I just went with the flow.”
Last summer, Keith was identified as one of four finalists for appointment as U.S. attorney for the Central District of Illinois, a post still filled with an interim appointment.
Keith, however, mentioned only charity work with his wife Lynn and for Conerstone Baptist Church of Groveland, his place of worship, in his future plans.
“I’ve been working since I washed (rental) cars at the Peoria airport for 50 cents a car when I was 12 or 13,” he said.
Last summer, Keith announced his intention to retire in December 2018. He would be replaced then by one of two attorneys who subsequently announced their candidacies on the Republican ballot for the Stark County judgeship.
“But it was my intention all the time to leave earlier,” Keith said.
Since no Democrat is running for his seat, the winner of the March 20 GOP primary likely will be elected in November to serve the remaining two years of his term.
The candidates seeking his seat are attorneys Bruce Fehrenbacher of rural Bradford and Robert Rennick Jr. of Toulon.