Henze to share felony criminal court docket with Brenner; Pratt to take over family/divorce docket

Holly Henze

Holly Henze

QUINCY — Holly Henze is anxious to take over a felony criminal court docket again, but this time it will be from a different perspective.

After working in the Adams County Public Defender’s office from 2003 to 2016, Henze has handled the family/divorce docket in Adams County since July 2016 when she became a judge in the Eighth Judicial Circuit. She will now be back in a criminal courtroom beginning June 10, sharing the felony criminal docket with Tad Brenner.

Christopher Pratt was appointed May 10 as an at-large judge in the Eighth Judicial Circuit. He replaces Robert Adrian, who was removed as a judge by the Illinois Courts Commission in February. Pratt’s investiture ceremony is scheduled for June 10.

Frank McCartney, chief judge of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, said the past eight years Pratt has spent in the Adams County Public Defender’s office would have created too many conflicts for him to be given a felony criminal docket in Adams County. Instead, Pratt will inherit Henze’s family/divorce docket. 

Judge Charles H.W. Burch, temporarily assigned to the criminal docket in Adams County with the removal of Adrian, will return to handling his docket in Calhoun County.

Henze graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 2001, then started working as a part-time public defender in Adams County in 2003. She became the head of the office in July 2012 when Ed Downey retired after 15 years as the county’s public defender.

“I’ve loved presiding over my divorce and family domestic relations docket,” Henze said. “I could retire doing these. Every day you learn something new and how to better handle something or how to be more patient. My pro se dockets require the most patience, and that teaches you patience.

“Then (McCartney) gradually started chipping away at me and putting the seed in my head. Just being in the courtroom is the goal, but I’m excited to get back to the criminal docket. I’m excited to do something different. I’m not afraid of the challenge.”

McCartney said Henze was an “obvious choice” for the criminal docket.

“Judge Henze brings a wealth of experience and expertise to the criminal dockets and should be able to hit the ground running,” he said. “I am grateful that the judges in the Eighth Circuit are always willing to step in and help where needed.  With the swearing-in of Christopher Pratt, I am very optimistic the dockets in Adams County will continue to operate smoothly and efficiently.”

Henze thought her years in the public defender’s office prepared her well to become a judge because she learned to see both sides of a case.

“I could anticipate what the state was going to do and what the evidence was going to show, and I formulated our defense or negotiations usually,” she said. “If you take that to the bench with you, you see there’s often two sides to every story and the truth is often somewhere in the middle.”

Henze says she has homework to do to get caught up with criminal law.

“A lot has changed in eight years,” she said. “A lot I’ve kept up on. The SAFE-T Act is probably the biggest change. There will be a lot a lot of catching up to get the dockets ready. If a judge walks in and says they already know everything, you’ve got to watch out for that. I’ve been doing the divorce docket for eight years, and I still have to do research every once in a while on issues.”

Henze said she never dreamed of becoming a judge when she grew up on a farm near Lewistown, Mo. 

“I didn’t know any lawyers. I didn’t know any judges,” she said. 

Her cousins lived in Canton next to J. Pat Wheeler, who served multiple terms as the prosecuting attorney in Lewis County and practiced law in Canton for 66 years. Henze started work at age 21 as a secretary for Wheeler when he had his private practice. Much of her work was done in researching farm foreclosure cases and rebuilding abstracts.

“I was just there to type letters,” she said. “Eventually I got really good and could do discovery and answer interrogatories.”

Henze said Wheeler at one point picked up public defender work in Clark and Lewis counties.

“One day I walked into work and (Wheeler) said, ‘You’re going to court with me today,’” she recalled. “He took me to the old courthouse in Clark County, and it was Law Day. It was the first time I’d ever been in a courtroom. To me, the courthouse was where I went with my dad every New Year’s Eve to pay real estate taxes.

“All the attorneys were milling around, cases were being called and the judge was on the bench. I loved it. Absolutely loved it.”

After starting work for Schmiedeskamp, Robertson Neu and Mitchell in Quincy, in 1986, Henze left with Jon Barnard in 1995 when he went into solo practice. Soon after, she decided at age 36 to begin law school and earn her law degree.

“Now it’s been eight years on the bench,” she said. “And to this day, when people ask me, ‘What do you do?’, and I say, ‘I’m a judge,’ I don’t even believe it myself.”

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